As the world heard about last week’s death of Joe Jackson, the father of America’s most successful musical family, an exhibition that honours the influence of his most famous off spring was opening at one of the UK’s national art galleries.
“Michael Jackson On The Wall” is a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Galley in London exploring how the King of Pop inspired some of the world’s leading and emerging contemporary artists. It coincides with what would have been The King of Pop’s 60th birthday this August.
The exhibits range from a picture of the two bedroomed house in Gary Indiana where young Michael spent his childhood rehearsing under the management of his father to the final portrait that he commissioned before his death in 2009.
48 artists from around the world employ a range of media, photographs, paintings, video and installations to express Michael Jackson’s influence on their work.
Filmmaker Michael Robinson creates a video called “These Hammers Don’t hurt Us” combining clips from the short film to Jackson’s song “Remember the Time” with vintage footage of Elizabeth Taylor from the 1963 film “Cleopatra”.
In the second room of the exhibition, Jackson and Taylor are brought together again in “Bedside Table” a series of photos by Catherine Opie showing mementoes found in Taylor’s home in Los Angeles before and after her death in March 2011.
They depict an indirect, yet intimate portrait of their friendship including a framed picture of the two stars and the order of service from Jackson’s funeral.
Another filmmaker Rodney McMillan creates a portrait of Jackson, through he impact he had on his fans with a video showing Images of screaming, delirious fans at concerts filmed in September 2001 but without the star himself appearing in the video at all.
One of the most intriguing exhibits is a Michael Jackson dinner jacket that is adorned with miniature spoons, folks, and knives made by Michael Lee Bush.
Apparently, Jackson wanted an item of clothing made out of cutlery because it was “the one thing that every man, woman and child in the world knows”
In 2005, South African artist Candice Breitz assembled 16 German-speaking fans of Michael Jackson and each participant was filmed singing the songs from the album “Thriller” a Capella.
The recordings were collated to form a portrait of Jackson through his fans in a video called “King (A Portrait of MJ)” which is a popular attraction at this exhibition.
Michael Jackson fans will be familiar with artwork for his 1991 album “Dangerous” but what may not be known is that the singer commissioned the artist Mark Ryden who worked on the painting over a 6 month period while listening to songs from the album for inspiration.
So famous was Jackson that all the artist does is paint his eyes alone peering out from behind an amusement park. Ryden has contributed this acrylic on panel work for the exhibition and designed a frame specifically for it.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby uses densely layered work to illustrate how MJ was received in Nigeria. “Before him, all the international icons we’d known were white British or American stars. MJ was particularly special because he was as cool, if not cooler, than the others and he was black,” she says.
The Nigerian born visual artist fuses collage, photo transfers, drawing and painting to depict an imaginary interior of a Nigerian home with images of the country’s musicians including P Square whose work has been influenced by Michael Jackson.
The global influence of Michael Jackson appears in a 1992 video from a sold out concert in front of 100,000 people in Bucharest, three years after collapse of communism.
Romanian artist Dan Mihaltianu presents an installation on the remarkable meeting of ‘high capitalist spectacle and the response from a newly post communist society’.
“Michael Jackson; On The Wall” is open at the National Portrait Gallery in London till October 2018 and the exhibition will then tour Paris, Bonn and Helsinki over the next two years.