The National Portrait Gallery presents a new exhibition entitled Michael Jackson: On the Wall which explores how Michael Jackson has inspired some of the leading names in contemporary art. This major exhibition spanning several generations of artists across all media coincides with what would have been Michael Jackson’s 60th birthday (on August 29, 2018).
While Jackson is considered one of the most iconic cultural figures of the 20th century for his music, videos, dance, choreography and fashion, his impact on contemporary art is less well-known and is the focus for this exhibition.
The Michael Jackson: On the Wall exhibition brings together the works of over 40 artists, drawn from public and private collections around the world, some of the artists featured include : Maggi Hambling, David LaChapelle, Catherine Opie, Yan Pei Ming, Grayson Perry, Donald Urquhart, Kehinde Wiley, Andy Warhol and many more
As you enter the exhibition, visitors can see a Michael Jackson representation by Keith Waring before Kehinde Wiley’s Equestrian portrait of King Phillip ( Michael Jackson) perhaps making a statement that the ways that Kings of history and Kings of Pop are projected have some similarity.
David LaChappelle takes this worship further with Jackson featured in a number of religious poses.
A series of videos show Michael Jackson in performance which provides evidence of his innovative live shows and music. However this is only one part of why Jackson fascinates artists and the exhibition asks why so many contemporary artists have been drawn to Jackson as a subject.
One of first artists drawn to Jackson’s iconic status was Andy Warhol who created images in his famous pop art style. A room in this exhibition explores this relationship between Warhol and Jackson.
A large cut out of Mark Ryden’s Dangerous from 1991 takes visitors from one part of the exhibition to another section which includes Michael Jackson’s remarkable ‘dinner jacket’ by Michael Lee Bush and Sex and Drugs and Earthenware by Grayson Perry.
With so many portraits of Jackson, we can see how he changed his appearance dramatically over the years and how his ‘persona’ became more complex as he grew older.
Many iconic figures of the 20th century had a self-destructive streak like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Michael Jackson’s story was not quite so simple with a number of issues that tarnished and challenged his reputation.
It is this ‘fallen idol’ stage that often attracts artists like Maggie Hambling who captures Jackson when he was facing charges about ‘child abuse’.
This exhibition is like its subject matter, entertaining but a little bizarre, the reality of a child star who became one of the most famous musical artists in the world has often been subsumed by myth and legend. Therefore it may not be a surprise that artists often portray Jackson as a mythical figure in mythical settings.
This exhibition may be a celebration of Michael Jackson artistic endeavours but provides some evidence of the dark underbelly of fame. It is this light and dark that seems to fascinate contemporary artists and the wider public, this exhibition is likely to be very popular and it may be worth booking in advance.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the National Portrait Gallery website here
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