Michael Jackson’s legacy as a pop-culture and artistic icon is explored in a new exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery opening Thursday.
“Michael Jackson: On the Wall” — a play on the title of classic 1979 album “Off the Wall” — follows the king of pop, who still captivates artists nine years after his death, through his multi-million selling career.
The exhibition features paintings, photographs and sculptures from artists such as pop-art pioneer Andy Warhol, German sculptor Isa Genzken and US photographer David LaChapelle.
The man with the best-selling album in history, “Thriller”, continues to shape modern culture through his body of work.
Each of the exhibition’s 14 rooms explores a facet of the singer’s life, which ended in June 2009.
In the “American Jesus” room, the visitor is met by four giant LaChapelle pictures, each surrealist, kitsch, colourful and full of religious symbolism.
One shows Jackson with angel wings on his back, praying and trampling on a red satan.
The exhibition also showcases the star’s final commissioned portrait “Equestrian Portrait of King Philippe II” by US artist Kehinde Wiley, in which the singer sits on horseback, while two angels — one white, one black — wrestle above his head.
“We wanted interesting portraits of Michael Jackson,” said Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery.
“It was not about the fame of the artist or their age,” he said.
Other pieces include evening jackets worn by the singer, his black moccasins, magazine covers dedicated to him and some of the objects that adorned his bedside table.
“The exhibition is not a biography of Michael Jackson,” said the director.
“We are just looking at him through the prism of contemporary art,” he said, adding that Jackson meant “different things to all types of people”.
The gallery chief believes the world will never again see such a cultural phenomenon.
“There will never be another Michael Jackson,” he said.
“Some say that Beyonce is the new Michael Jackson, but even though she is great and I have a lot of respect for her, it is not comparable: he is unique”.
The exhibition will run in London until October 21, before heading to Paris, Bonn and Finland.