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‘Michael Jackson: On the Wall’

“Michael Jackson: On The Wall” gathers together the work of forty-eight disparate artists exploring the legacy of perhaps the most frequently depicted cultural figure in history, and his fame is their common palette,” writes Diana Evans. “He is inseparable from it. It was his making and his tragedy. It glows with a bright, mournful edge from every one of these works, probing the question of what might have been if his enormous success had not in some way required, or at least contributed to, his eventual annihilation.

Kehinde Wiley’s sumptuous portrait, displayed here for the first time in the UK, is mounted against a recurring blood-red background, adjacent to a contrasting work by Lyle Ashton Harris, Black Ebony II (2010), a painting on Ghanaian funerary fabric of Jackson on the cover of Ebony magazine in 2007. There are so many Michaels here, abstract and explicit, symbolic and personal, among the most striking the majestic, biblically-themed photographic portraits of David LaChapelle, thick with drama and fantastic weirdness. In almost every portrait, Jackson’s eyes are striking—staring, testing, or withholding—and a section of the exhibition is dedicated to them. They are headboard-studded in Isaac Lythgoe’s surreal The Only Here Is Where I Am (2016), just the eyes, defaced and disembodied, yet recognizable. In Gary Hume’s characteristically spare and graphic high-gloss painting, simply titled Michael (2001), their clear sadness is highlighted by chunky black brows and the frightened red lips, that deathly white complexion, drawn from the classic image of the man at perhaps his most vulnerable. Meanwhile, there is footage playing in a dark annex of the Bucharest leg of Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour, shortly after the fall of communism and the collapse of the Eastern bloc.

The recurring theme throughout is of Michael Jackson as a godlike figure, existent among us though infused with the divine, visible yet unreachable, with the music the cord that connected him to us.”

For more information, visit npg.org.uk.

Category: Exhibition
National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place,
London, United Kingdom