An exhibition of art inspired by Michael Jackson opened Tuesday in Helsinki with organisers insisting it was not a “celebration” of the singer, still dogged by abuse allegations a decade after his death.
“Michael Jackson: On the Wall” brings together old and new works depicting the iconic pop star and his impact on popular culture, by artists including Andy Warhol, American photographer David LaChapelle and British potter Grayson Perry.
The show of 90 works first hung in London’s National Portrait Gallery in 2018 to widespread critical acclaim. It then toured in Paris and Bonn before coming to Helsinki.
The German and Finnish shows come after a new raft of allegations that Jackson groomed and sexually assaulted children, detailed in the 2018 documentary “Finding Neverland”.
The exhibition will nevertheless run in the Finnish capital “as planned”, organisers said, with a text at the entrance acknowledging that “current conversations may have changed the way the exhibition is interpreted”.
“We can’t shy away from these difficult subjects and we, of course, condemn all kinds of abuse,” Arja Miller, chief curator at Espoo Museum of Modern Art, told AFP.
“But we also want to provide a platform for open discussion and for artists’ voices,” she said.
“This exhibition and these artists are not celebrating Michael Jackson, but analysing his meaning in our culture,” Miller added.
– Sponsors scared away –
Miller said some organisations refused to sponsor the exhibition over concerns about the controversies surrounding the singer, despite not having seen the show.
“I’m convinced that if everyone would have seen the exhibition they’d gladly be our partner because the exhibition is so diverse,” she told AFP.
Many of the Jackson-inspired works veer between the gaudy and the grotesque, including an oversized golden statue of the megastar with his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, by Paul McCarthy.
Elsewhere, a life-size portrait by Kehinde Wiley, commissioned by Jackson himself shortly before his death in 2009, features the star in jewelled armour on horseback surrounded by cherubs, after a portrait by Rubens of King Philip II of Spain.
The Romanian artist Dan Mihaltianu’s installation draws on the impact of Jackson’s seminal 1992 concert in post-Communist Bucharest, using newspaper photos alongside concert footage.
“He will stay as an icon somehow, you cannot just erase him,” Mihaltianu told AFP.
“I remember already when he died, people were kind of, ‘OK, now he’s got to rest in peace.’ But 10 years later, it’s a new story coming up.”