Ten’s To See: ‘Michael Jackson: On The Wall’ At The National Portrait Gallery
It’s been nearly ten years since Michael Jackson died, and exactly ten years since Director of the National Portrait Gallery Nicholas Cullinan began to curate the exhibition that opens today, “Michael Jackson: On The Wall.” It’s not an exhibition about Jackson’s biography or memorabilia, but one that cleverly looks at his life through the prism of contemporary art. Such an exhibition has not happened before. And it’s good. It’s poignant, not in a personal, heartbreaking way but in a way that makes one realise the ways in which he touched so many people’s lives. It’s a wonderland of diverse, iconic and unknown artists’ representations of Jackson from his youth to the last ever commissioned portrait of him. Titled ‘Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson)’ said portrait by Kehinde Wiley was commissioned by Jackson after he was posing for a photograph in the Brooklyn Museum, saw Wiley’s artwork and had to meet that artist. The result is epic, Jackson in his righteous King-like (of pop) state on horseback. Fearless. David LaChapelle’s biblical, beautiful images of Jackson line the halls. Always love a little bit of LaChapelle land. And of course Andy Warhol. It all began with him, after Cullinan had begun working on a Warhol exhibition and then understood how many artists had been drawn to Jackson as a subject.
Todd Gray, Michael Jackson’s self-commissioned personal photographer between 1979 and 1983, was there, amongst his archive of images that he has collected. “I attempted to place them into the everyday home of black families, using frames from garage shops in south LA, which is predominantly black working class families,” he said. “I then did a residency in Johannesburg and acquired frames there and used those also to just talk about post colonialism.” Dawn Mellor’s painting of MJ from ten years ago explores the modern day dark world of fangirling. “I allowed myself to take on the role as obsessive fans… the fascination we hold for al these figures.” Relatable. Echoed in Graham Dolphin’s work, born out of growing up in the midlands in the ‘80s and the only access he had to pop culture was through records and magazines. “It was obvious for me to use this in my artworks,” he told us. “Obsessing over covers, lyrics, drawing on top of them.” Recreating Michael Jackson’s first Rolling Stone cover at 11 years old (and also the youngest person to ever be on the cover) is there, as is a collage of the ‘Off the Wall’ album cover with lyrics from The Jackson 5 and MJ’s solo stuff is written round and round in tiny lettering. It took him six months – the prime example of the obsession and labour over the love for Jackson.
Maggi Hambling’s painting, all it’s silvery metallic mirror-like wonder, was born from, “a lot of images in the newspapers of Michael Jackson after his arrest,” she told us. “There was one particular image of him standing alone long before he was found not guilty, but it was as if everyone was pronouncing him guilty. I was moved by the image and so I tried to paint him stranding alone and vulnerable, juxtaposed to the signature image of his dancing legs, the movement of the painting is down and then a joyous rising up.” The despair in Jackson’s face in the painting is echoed in Jordan Wolfson’s ‘Neverland,’ a clever digital transfer of the original video in his home in 1993 in which he denied accusations of child molestation. In the video, his blinking eyes are isolated from the rest of his face, the rest of the screen remains a blank stark white. The distress and upset in the movement of his eyes is accompanied by the sound of running water to depict the idea that Jackson was living in a goldfish bowl.
These heartbreaking moments in the exhibition are so perfectly curated amongst celebratory videos of Jackson performing, totally adored and in his element. For the fans. Through research the gallery has discovered the age group of most interested in Michael Jackson range between 16 to 24, and so ‘Jackson £5 for young people’ tickets will be available to anyone aged 25 and younger from 10am-9pm on Fridays. We like their style. Doing it for the kids. And for the fashion focused (us) sponsor of the exhibition Hugo Boss will be releasing a capsule collection in collaboration with the Estate of Michael Jackson, including a new edition of the legendary BOSS suit that he wore on the Thriller cover. Boom. It’s a celebration. Don’t stop ’til you get enough. Clearly we didn’t.
Above image: ‘An Illuminating Path’ by David LaChapelle
‘Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson)’ by Kehinde Wiley
‘Michael Jackson’ by Andy Warhol
‘Untitled’ by Keith Haring
‘Exquisite Terribleness in the Mangrove’ by Todd Gray
‘MJ back’ by Andy Warhol