Michael Jackson At National Portrait Gallery - This One's A Thriller
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Music blares through the National Portrait Gallery, are anarchists staging some sort of protest? No, it's the sounds of Working Day And Night by Michael Jackson and part of a new exhibition on the King of Pop, focusing on how he interacted with and influenced artists.
There was a time when MJ seemed like the centre of the universe. Even if someone had absolutely no interest in music — it didn't matter if they were black or white — they still struggled to figure out how to pull off a moonwalk... we never managed to get it right. As the author Zadie Smith has said:
People will be dancing like Michael Jackson until the end of time.
Thriller was released in the year we were born so we grew up in peak Michael Jackson era, absolutely loving his music. At the time we never appreciated what a global phenomenon he was, or the references to race and art history in his lyrics. That's what's so eye opening about this exhibition, it shows Michael Jackson in a light we never got to really appreciate back then.
His last commissioned work was a painting by Kehinde Wiley of Michael sitting astride a horse, in the fashion European monarchs were often portrayed. At first it may seem arrogant but head next door to The National Gallery and there's no non-white men to be found in any equestrian paintings — where are the rulers for BAME people to look up to?
David Hammons examines the role of black people in America by placing three microphones in the centre of the room representing the three Michaels - Jackson, Jordan and Tyson. It's a damning work highlighting the only avenues available for a black person to become famous.
Mark Flood creates a collage to make Jackson look like ET, based on a quote from Jackson where he saw himself as the alien:
He's in a strange place and wants to be accepted... He gives love and wants love in return, which is me
A pair of penny loafers held up by helium balloons in the famous 'freeze' pose — it's just a pair of shoes but the reference clicks immediately and signifying what a master of branding Michael Jackson was.
When he was alive Jackson collaborated with a lot of artists, Andy Warhol created a screenprint of him, and then Jackson returned the favour with a portrait of Andy Warhol in the video to Scream — the duet with Janet Jackson.
We recall owning Dangerous on cassette tape and thinking the cover art looked great, but only now can we see the many art history references to royal portraits and Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights.
David LaChappelle creates a striking photograph of MJ striding across lit up steps, much like the video to Billie Jean, with tiles on the gallery floor also lit up in a clever touch. It captures the icon he became while reminding of how he took music videos to new levels by investing money into making them elaborate and works of art in themselves.
We could easily continue reeling off the fantastic artworks in this mega exhibition because there are just that many and it's amazing to see how widely Michael Jackson's influence worked its way into artworks.
Too many people remember the later years of his life for all the controversy, the eccentricity and surgery that gained him the nickname Wacko Jacko. What we have here is a reminder of what a pop culture icon he was and a display of how he inspired an entire generation, including many artists.
The Michael Jackson name is enough to sell tickets to this exhibition and the National Portrait Gallery could have thrown a lazy exhibition together to pull in the punters. Instead they have gone much further and created an exhibition that touches on much bigger societal themes, ensuring the show has both style and substance.
Put on your one white glove covered with rhinestones, perfect that crotch grab and beat it over to the National Portrait Gallery — this one's a thriller.
Michael Jackson: On the Wall is on at National Portrait Gallery is sponsored by HUGO BOSS and is on until 21 October. Tickets are £15.50-20 and booking in advance is strongly recommended.
Last Updated 28 June 2018