n her 1993 interview with Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey asked the alabaster-faced Afro-American superstar if he bleached his skin. No, he said. “And why is that so important? I’m a great fan of art. I love Michelangelo. If I had a chance to talk to him, I would want to know what inspired him to become who he is, not about who he went out with last night or why he decided to sit out in the sun for so long.” It’s the quote National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan cites as he reflects on Michael Jackson: On the Wall, the exhibition he is launching on June 28, and a sentiment he echoes: “This is not about trying to dissect someone’s life and character. It’s about him as an artist.”
48 artists offered their responses to the King of Pop, for an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
“I know the creator will go, but his work survives.” Michael Jackson is quoting Michelangelo in an interview for Ebonymagazine in 2007; it’s displayed at a new National Portrait Galleryexhibition named after the singer. “That is why to escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work.”
In August this year, the so-called “King of Pop” would have turned 60. As we also approach 10 years since his death, the gallery has launched Michael Jackson: On the Wall, an exhibition set to tour Paris, Bonn and Finland over the next two years.
Encompassing works from 48 diverse artists from different generations, backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities in a plethora of mediums, one way to define the exhibition – as curator and gallery director Nicholas Cullinan tells me – is to say what it is not: “This is not a biography or a memorabilia collection, a retrospective of his career through the prism of music, dance, fashion or a study of his fame. This exhibition is dedicated to his influence on contemporary art.”