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Michael Jackson, from “King of Pop” to icon of contemporary art in London

The musical legacy that Michael Jackson, the “king of pop” left for posterity can not be questioned, but until now, no one had explored the influence of this twentieth century icon in contemporary art.

The exhibition “Michael Jackson: On The Wall” of the National Portrait Gallery in London, is entering for the first time in the inspiration that exerted on almost fifty artists of our time.

Just two days ago it was nine years since the disappearance of Jackson, who on August 29 would have turned 60, a loss that shocked the world, but from which he flees in this show, which aims to celebrate the artist’s life from a new perspective.

“Invincible”, “Captain” or “historical” are just some of the adjectives that can be read in the play “A Michael Jackson Alphabet” that opens the exhibition and in which the artist Donal Urquhart makes a tour of the attributes of the American through the letters of the alphabet.

How could it be otherwise “A” corresponds to “ABC” the greatest success of The Jackson 5, the group with which Michael became known along with four of his brothers at the beginning of the seventies and that became one of the greatest phenomena of popular music of the time.

The song “Workin ‘Day and Night” (1979), of the third album of Jackson, “Off the Wall” (title in which the name of the exhibition has been inspired) puts soundtrack to the sample from the work of Susan Smith -Pinelo “Sometimes”, in which the theme is repeated in a loop accompanied by a video of the singer’s chest.

However, music takes a backseat at the National Portrait Gallery, which focuses on painting, collage, video and photography to give shape to the whole, composed of a dozen halls, which go through the life of Jackson.

One of them is dedicated exclusively to his relationship Andy Warhol, who portrayed him with his characteristic colors in 1984, and became a mass idol after the success of his sixth album “Thriller” (1982), the best-selling album of all the times, with more than 105 million copies.
The curator of the show and director of the gallery, Nicholas Cullinan, said today that “Michael Jackson: On The Wall” adopts a “new and radical approach to the cultural impact of a unique figure through contemporary art.”

In the words of Cullinan, all the artists, “although they come from different generations and parts of the world, share their fascination with the figure of Jackson and what he invented”.

A fascination that is made entirely tangible in the works of the American photographer David LaChapelle, whose huge snapshots show a Michael Jackson as an archangel who rises on a demon, as a martyr in the arms of Jesus Christ or walking with a virgin.

A veneration that escapes the accusations of abuse of minors that tarnished the career of the artist in his last years, an episode in which he goes on tiptoe in the show, which seeks to elevate the figure of the vocalist.

“Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson)” (2010), by Kehinde Wiley, is a clear example of this, with a Michael Jackson emulating being a king on an equine, inspired by the painting “Felipe II on horseback” ( 1630), by Pedro Pablo Rubens and that was the last painting commissioned by himself.

Eleven of the works that can be seen in London from June 28 to October 21 have been made specifically for the exhibition by artists such as Njideka Akunyili, Dara Birnbaum, Michael Craig-Martin, Graham Dolphin or Yan Pei Ming.

“It’s rare that there’s something new to say about someone so famous, but that’s the case,” the commissioner concluded today.

Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, at age 50, overdose of drugs while preparing a series of concerts in the British capital with which he planned his return to the stage.

Paula Baena Velasco

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