Dendur Is the Night

A K-Pop idol takes the Met

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s private event for Korean skincare brand Sulwhasoo. Photo: BFA.

ON WEDNESDAY EVENING, the guards of Metropolitan Museum of Art wore orange to mark the museum’s yearlong partnership with Sulwhasoo, a Korean heritage beauty brand currently rolling out their amber-themed, Tilda Swinton–starring “I am Ginseng” campaign. Korakrit Arunanondchai appropriately wore a copper-toned, rhinestoned velour tracksuit, while artist Diane Severin Nguyen, Paris Review editor Olivia Kan-Sperling, and I had opted for black silk and ruffles with a dash of pink lip gloss, in honor of Sulwhasoo’s international ambassador Rosé, the mononymous star of BLACKPINK, the megawattage K-pop phenomenon that can be qualified with any number of superlatives—the highest-charting, all-time best-selling, most successful and biggest girl group in the world. It was somewhat of a fluke that we’d ended up there; Diane was supposed to be in Paris for a solo exhibition opening at La MEP until her passport was lost in the mail, and my press trip to cover the Gwangju Biennale had been ixnayed thanks to PR politics. I figured covering this Korea-comes-to-New-York event could be a restitution of sorts (if that’s the mot juste), and so there we all were, wandering through Tutankhamun’s Tomb at 9 p.m. on a school night, champagne flutes in hand.

“It’s so crazy these are real!” we murmured, already altered by the bubbly.

As we approached the Temple of Dendur, the smell of the ocean started to prick my nose, likely from the Korean cuisine prepared by Michelin-starred chef Junghyun Park for the celebrity VIPs of the evening, including Academy Award–winning Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn, Charli XCX, Emily in Paris’s Ashley Park, Victoria’s Secret model Georgia Fowler, and the rapper-singer Anderson .Paak. Stepping into what was until recently known as the Sackler Wing, typically serene with the Kevin Roche windows flooded with daylight, we saw that it had been transformed into something of a cross between prom and an Upper East Side bar mitzvah. 2000s hits by Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake were booming from the DJ booth while strobes flashed onto a sea of sequins, sparkles, and gelled hair. Don’t get me wrong, the guests looked fabulous, and after all, as matriculates of the art world, did we ever really leave high school?

Diane Severin Nguyen, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Hiji Nam, and Olivia Kan-Sperling. Photo: Diane Severin Nguyen.

Armed with our ginseng-infused cocktails, we settled into a seated alcove directly below the Temple, where I assessed the possibility of scaling the Isiac monument with Willa Nasatir, a habitué of Brooklyn’s VITAL bouldering gym. From the downtown set we spotted artist Maggie Lee, Raffaella of the fashion label Lou Dallas, and gallerists Jenny Borland and Matt Sova, who played me internet personality and K-pop superfan Oli London’s song “Koreaboo.” (London is notorious for having undergone eleven plastic surgery procedures in one day with the aim of transforming into Korean boy band BTS member Jimin.) When I told her I was writing a diary, Jeanette Hayes shared that ChatGPT has been helping her write. ChatGPT, write an Artforum gossip column about an upscale event at the Met featuring K-pop stars: “K-pop stars in attendance included BLACKPINK, EXO, and TWICE, all of whom mingled with the guests and posed for selfies. The sight of these superstars in the hallowed halls of the Met was certainly a surreal one, but it was clear that they were enjoying themselves just as much as the guests were.”

Pretty good, but I’m not sure Rosé is really allowed to enjoy herself in public—we only caught a glimpse of her as she glided by, impenetrably flanked by her handlers. Diane had wondered if the star remembered a conversation they’d had in a Versace lounge for a Frieze Seoul afterparty a few months ago; as Krit predicted, we never had the chance to find out.

The party ended abruptly at midnight, and by the time we were ushered out to coat check, we had sadly missed the gift bags filled with what I can only imagine was the promise of Korean glass skin in a bottle. The word “biopolitics” was nowhere to be found in the event’s invitation or press release, but that evening, we had in essence witnessed a powerful execution of it, riding the crest of the global “K-Wave,” or, as it’s known throughout Asia, Hallyu (incidentally the topic of an ongoing showcase at London’s V&A—sponsored, of course, by the Korean Ministry of Culture and Hyundai’s “luxury-leaning” sedan model, Genesis): skincare, pop music, cars, movies, dramas. Like artificial intelligence (not to mention Purdue Pharma), these are cultural, corporate, and softcore-war technologies and tactics with the power to extend and truncate the mind and body—chemicals and machines that we get into and out of, blurring the boundaries of our worlds.

One thing AI won’t be able to replicate anytime soon: our unconscious. If we think of the global situation in which we live in as a kind of eternal night, it’s worth remembering that in Freud’s vision, the death drive is a primary process of all living things—we desire the frustration of un-life as much as the enlivening pleasures of satisfaction. We might consider our fascination for icons, symbols, and pop princesses in these terms—the people we flatten into lifeless life, cold statues bathed in light, as symptoms of a fantastic wish to grasp some lost illusion of a golden age, a world without the heartbreak of fractures and division, in a state of impossible stasis.

BLACKPINK’s Rosé. Photo: Hiji Nam.