As one of the most recognized people who has ever lived, Michael Jackson has had a lifetime of visuals dedicated to him. His image as a musician spanned the globe, but it also made him a prominent figure in choreography, fashion, and as a social advocate. His significance within the visual art world has become a lesser known exploration. However, a new worldwide showcase that began at the National Portrait Gallery in London focuses on this very idea. Unlike other pop-star exhibitions however, Michael Jackson: On The Wall not only presents the numerous examples of visual art dedicated to the star, but explores the entire nature of his fame, his worldwide influence, and the long lasting effects of his existence in culture today.
The exhibition features work of forty-eight prominent artists from all over the world, including Faith Ringgold, Kehinde Wiley, Keith Haring, Hank Willis Thomas, and specifically Andy Warhol. It explores themes such as portraiture of the iconic man, imitative fan artwork that resonate heavily with "hero worship", and universal acknowledgement and fame. In a world where even in death, content can be consumed, Jackson's figure, among multi levels of media, offers a complicated and versatile view of the man himself. Taken from the perspective as observer, in both fandom and not, the exhibition attempts to construct a comprehensive viewpoint of the man. Some work was made during his life, while others were created specifically for this show. However, no one artist is featured more than Andy Warhol. A self-obsessed fan of Michael Jackson, Warhol's images of the man are given an entire room
Although the subject remains the same, the artists' choice of perspective, material, and focus reveals just how complicated this man's image is within our greater society. He is recognized for so many things, that harnessing him from all angles becomes a requirement. In doing so, the artists celebrate Jackson, but also relatively discuss negative aspects of his career, the gossip that fuels any pop culture figure to their death, notably his sexual assault charges. This noteworthy aspect of his life obviously resonates heavily with the modern day #MeToo campaigns and subtly parallels the other questions that fuel this exhibition. Do accolades remembered in death overshadow actions in life? As such a complicated figure of popular culture, Michael Jackson will always be remembered for his influence and innovation of music internationally, but his veritable status was rife with trauma, scandal, and untold rumors.
This exhibition's aim in exploring the multifaceted man successfully engages his image from an international perspective, only further validating his worldwide fame and influence. This versatile showcase is now currently at the Grand Palais in France, but will be moving to Bundeskunsthalle in Germany and finally to Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Finland.
Title Image: Gary Hume, Michael, 2011. Courtesy of Spruth Magers and Matthew Marks.