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Larger Than Life: What To See At The BTS x James Jean Seven Phases Exhibition in Manila

white wall with black text Hybe Insight BTS x James Jean Seven Phases Exhibition in Manila
Prepare to be mesmerized by James Jean's colorful world and memorabilia from BTS' sterling 10-year career

When I first heard of the BTS x James Jean Seven Phases exhibition for the opening of HYBE Insight back in 2021, I knew I wanted to see the works of James Jean in person. I had been hearing about him for years now and admired his colorful, whimsical pieces. So knowing that one of the biggest Asian artists in the art world is collaborating with BTS — the biggest Asian music act in the world — I knew it was going to be dynamite (pun intended!).

But it was also heartbreaking as traveling in 2021 was still quite difficult to do, not to mention very expensive given all the rules of traveling and quarantining under COVID-19 protocols back then. So I had to settle with reading about other ARMY's experiences at HYBE Insight and seeing photos of James Jean’s works online. When I did get to travel to Seoul the year after, the Seven Phases exhibit was already done and I was only able to visit the Proof exhibition. Although I enjoyed it immensely, I was also a bit sad because I really wanted to see James Jean’s works.

So when it was announced last October 6 that Seven Phases would be brought to Manila, I was so happy and excited that I knew I wanted to see it on opening day! And his works did not disappoint.

BTS x James Jean Seven Phases

For those who don't know, BTS x James Jean Seven Phases is a collection of artworks based on the personalities of the seven members of BTS. James Jean, a talented Taiwanese-American visual artist, reimagined the members as characters in his otherworldly style. The artworks were first unveiled in Seoul, South Korea, as part of the grand opening of HYBE Insight, HYBE Corporation's in-house museum.

The exhibition in Manila is the second stop of the collection's mini-world tour, which started in Frankfurt, Germany, last June. It is currently being held at Level 4 of SM Megamall (it's on the bridgeway between buildings A & B, fronting Racks restaurant).

Upon entering the exhibition, you will be greeted by a hallway offering an introduction to the collection. It is right away followed by a room featuring Jean's initial pencil sketches of the Seven Phases characters. After which, are ink renderings of the character sketches, as well as Garden, the final piece of the collection where all the characters occupy their own little spots in an ethereal flower world. The way the sketches were displayed seemed like a storyboard of sorts, telling a tale of how the characters came into being.

Following the sketches are the finished pieces that have taken the art world by storm. First up is the set of seven paintings (that look more like wooden sculptures) featuring only the faces of the seven characters. This set was the basis for some of the merchandise, such as enamel pins and stickers, that were sold as part of promotions for the collection. (NOTE: In the Manila exhibition, only the sticker and postcard sets are available for purchase at the exhibition Merch Zone.)

Then, you enter the main exhibit, where you will be mesmerized by Moonchild (RM), Narcissus (Jin), Meowtide (SUGA), Solaria (j-hope), Champignon (Jimin), Violane (V), Cottontail (Jung Kook), and finally, Garden (OT7), in all their mixed media glory! Each painting is about 6 or 7 feet tall, with Garden twice in size. Mesmerizing is an understatement because no digital photo/video or art print can capture the actual beauty of James Jean's works.

If we only had more time to spend inside (each visit to the exhibition has a limit of 50 minutes only), it would be wonderful to just sit in front of each painting to absorb James Jean’s talent and skill as an artist. The details were just incredible and each character truly captured and portrayed the BTS member so well. Seeing through the naked eye all the minute details and "Easter eggs" that are so easy to miss in the digital photos and art prints, is proof that the artist took his time learning about each member before he created the characters.

BTS Assets Zone

While I was still immersed in the Seven Phases exhibit, I could already hear screams from the next room, so I kind of had an idea of what was coming, based on what I previously saw at the Proof exhibition in Seoul. True enough, the next room contained outfits worn by BTS in three separate performances of "Permission To Dance," "MIC Drop," and "Butter."

And in case you are wondering, YES, the "MIC Drop" outfits are THE "MIC Drop" outfits from the Love Yourself Speak Yourself tour, which was designed by Kim Jones for Dior. (Dior Hoseok, anyone? j-hope performing Outro:Tear in that outfit will forever be in my mind!)

They also displayed other memorabilia such as in-ear monitors, suitcases for their tour equipment, and of course, the color-coded microphones of the members, which had become iconic symbols. (By the way, the Tita in me could not help but wonder how much the insurance cost for everything in the exhibit could be, considering how important the items were! Those Swarovski-studded microphones alone are already quite a treasure. 😀)

Next, is a room decorated with some of the trophies and plaques BTS received throughout the years. Trophies from the Billboard Music Awards and MTV Video Music Awards were there, as well as the plaques from Billboard Hot 100 and the Guinness Book of World Records.

Mixed in the "trophy room" are the Butter albums decorated by BTS members. The whole process was filmed for a Bangtan Bomb unboxing video released in 2021. Also on display is the pair of canvas shoes painted by j-hope and Jimin during the first season of In The Soop. A discography of albums is also featured in the same room, leaving evidence of BTS highly successful 10-year journey as groundbreaking artists.

Freedom Wall (a.k.a. ARMY Room)

Taking pictures and videos is not allowed throughout the whole exhibit, except for the final room, which I dub as the "ARMY Room," and the Merch Zone. There are CCTVs in every corner and we were also asked by marshalls to put away our phones just so they know for sure that no photos were taken. But in this room, it's free for all.

The room is decorated with framed pictures of BTS all over, with one wall being occupied by oversized lightbox portraits. In one corner, seven retro mics that look like the ones they used for Airplane Pt. 2 are on display. Visitors are not allowed to touch the mics, but you can pose and take souvenir pictures with them.

There's also a message wall where everyone is encouraged to write their messages for BTS, and since their photos were also hung on the wall, you could choose to write your message beside your bias/es. The messages are collected by the organizers and sent back to HYBE.

Merch Zone

Finally, the Merch Zone, located right beside the ARMY Room, offers a variety of official merchandise for sale, including album/tour merch, Tiny TAN, and more. A paper checklist is given to all visitors so you can choose the items you want to buy while waiting in line. ONce you reach the counter, simply submit your checklist, pay, and the friendly staff will hand over your purchases to you.

Once you exit the Merch Zone, you won't be allowed to re-enter so make sure you got everything you need. All in all, the BTS x James Jean Seven Phases Exhibition in Manila was a good experience. The feeling of being close to the artwork, trophies, and BTS costumes was quite breathtaking. It’s an event that all Pearl ARMY would not want to miss!

I do intend to visit it again before it closes, as it will only be in Manila until December 3.

1 Comment

It was a beautiful experience of being with BTS x ARMY. They want to get close to us and this exhibit proved how much love they have for us.

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