Michael Jackson: a mith elevated into Art
“The King of Pop” is the favourite model in contemporary art. He is a social phenomenon and source of inspiration for artists. This myth elevated to art pieces shows at Museum exhibitions in England, France, Germany and Finland.
“I’m a great fan of art. I love Michelangelo. If I had the chance to talk to him, I would ask what inspired him to become who he was and about the anatomy of his craftsmanship”.
When the world first learned of his death from overdose in 2009, the news had a whiff of unreality about it. For so long, it had been hard to remember that he was actually a person. A child prodigy who in adulthood became a genuine Peter Pan, refusing to grow old, Jackson was always more an idea than a human being in the flesh. Nearly a decade later, the shape-shifting body frozen in memory, his extraordinary image endures as if he never left.
An ambitious and thought-provoking new touring exhibition, seeks to measure the impact and reach of Michael Jackson as muse and cultural icon.
The theme of the show is a collection of artworks created in the 80’s with the American musician as protagonist motive of inspiration.
The most popular, are Andy Warhol’s instantly recognisable silk-screen prints and grainy snapshots. He photographed the singer with his brothers, and Andy Warhol commissioned an artist friend to paint a portrait of Michael Jackson in 1982. But in 1984, it was TIME Magazine who asked Andy Warhol to make a portrait for its cover. It was then that he choose a photo of the singer to make one of his famous serigraphs, which he declines with different coloured backgrounds. In the exhibition there are two of these portraits, some of the best in the whole show.
We will rediscover the many facets of Michael, one of them, a graffiti inspired portrait by his friend and street artist, Keith Harring.
Another artist who was very interested in the singer, is the photographer David La Chapelle. With him, Michael appears as a modern day martyr in a triptych with religious connotations: three large kitsch kits made after his death. This series of huge photos depict the King of Pop in a number of Biblical settings.
Another pretentious artwork by Lorraine O’Grady‘s “The First and Last of the Modernists” shows Michael compared to 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire.
Among other portraits of Jackson, one of the best is by Chinese painter Yan Pei Ming: “In memory of Michael Jackson, 1958-2009“, painted in 2017. It is a huge black and white canvas, painted eight years after his death.
It was specially created for the exhibition, as well as the three video creations commissioned by French choreographers.
In the one directed by Jacques Gamblin, dancer Raphaelle Delaunay happily mixes the famous gestures of the artist with classical dance on a music score by Lully.
The famous porcelain sculpture “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” by Jeff Koons is notably absent. This most emblematic opener piece was not lent for the show but we can picture it in photos.
48 artists tell us chronologically the story of the transformation of a young boy overdue into a world legend. The traveling exhibition started in London National Portrait Gallery, is now at Grand Palais in Paris and it will travel to Germany and Finland.
Curated by Nicholas Cullinan, it brings together the work of 48 artists across numerous media.
If the body of the singer is very present in the exhibition, his music on the other hand is almost absent. A lack filled by the video installation of South African artist Candice Breitz. In this work, we hear the album “Thriller” sung a cappella by 16 fans filmed individually.
With no doubt, the strongest piece is by Kehinde Wiley, “Equestrian Portrait of Michael Jackson as King Philip II”, a floor-to-ceiling sized cod-classicist portrait commissioned by Jackson himself shortly before he died.
Michael Jackson was a huge fan of Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens and, knowing this, Wiley was inspired for this canvas on Ruben’s “Portrait of King Phillip II of Spain” in the Prado Museum (Madrid).
It depicts Michael on horseback, in full armour, overlooking a battle and surrounded by cherubs. It is brilliantly, almosthilariously and gaudy. This painting was the last commission by the singer before his death but he could never see it finished.
A psychologist would probably recognise that certainly, this is the portrait that says the most about the essence of the singer himself.
Wiley’s piece is a reflection of how Jackson saw himself, and, in turn how he wanted to be seen and remembered. Like so much of Jackson‘s life and career, it is breathtaking and extravagant in its audacity.
Michael was not only one of the most influential personalities of music, dance, video and fashion of XX Century. He is also the most represented artist in contemporary art.