by Adrian Searle via theguardian.com
‘Ariel of the ghetto,” the writer Hilton Als called him. He has been compared to Baudelaire and Frankenstein’s monster; he played the Scarecrow in the Wiz, and transformed himself into a zombie in the Thriller video. He was both a global superstar and an enigma, almost universally feted, then prosecuted and vilified. Michael Jackson, now the subject of a large and surprising exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery, proves to be an enormously fertile figure for artists to have got their heads, as well as their art around, and often their hearts too.
Largely, Jackson passed me by, except as a kind of background music. The videos came and went on the screen and, as the news stories and TV footage became ever more puzzling and alarming, what interest I might have had in him became increasingly voyeuristic.
And all the while Jackson kept cropping up in places I didn’t expect to find him. My dry cleaner on the Hackney Road dressed like him. Jeff Koons made a giant porcelain sculpture of Jackson and his pet chimp, Bubbles. And here he is in Andy Warhol portraits, and in a huge equestrian portrait by Kehinde Wiley, based on Rubens’ Philip II on Horseback. Jackson is on the cover of Rolling Stone and Ebony and, in a Catherine Opie photograph, framed and smiling on Elizabeth Taylor’s bedside table. He’s a pieta, the Archangel Michael defeating the devil and, in a Mark Flood collage, a four-eyed alien standing next to ET. There are gigantic Michaels, tiny Michaels, badly drawn Michaels. Here he is in a horrible painting by Maggie Hambling that makes you squirm and want to run away. It is the worst thing here.
In Jordan Wolfson’s “Neverland,” Jackson is reduced to a tiny pair of hand-drawn eyes, blinking and swaying in a blank sea of emptiness on a big screen, to a gurgling sound reminiscent of a fish-tank aerator. Globbloboblob goes the sound, replacing whatever music Jackson might be swaying to. In Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom’s PYT, Jackson is reduced to an overlarge pair of penny loafers, held on tiptoe (like his dance move “the freeze”) by a bunch of balloons. David Hammons has Jackson as one of a trio of microphone stands, the others standing for boxer Mike Tyson and basketball player Michael Jordan, in Which Mike Do You Want to Be Like…? The mic stands are too high for anyone to use, an image of unattainable ambitions and public expectations.
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