Michael Jackson: Remembering the King of Pop with Art


Long before and since his death on June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson, the self-styled “King of Pop,” was a muse to a wide group of contemporary artists — ranging from Andy Warhol, who was dubbed the “Pope of Pop Art,” and his neo-pop art protégés, Jeff Koons and David LaChapelle, to the hip-hop championing Kehinde Wiley and celebrated street artist KAWS. Now, nearly two years after his untimely death at age 50, Flavorpill pays tribute to the award winning singer/songwriters life through the works of art he inspired.

Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson (Green), 1984

Warhol was commissioned by Time magazine to paint Jackson’s portrait in 1984 and made several versions of the portrait, which shows the handsome young singer wearing the jacket from the “Thriller” video. The one published in Time, which had a yellow background, is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, while this version sold at auction for more than $1 million shortly after Jackson’s death.

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988

The final work in Koons’ Banality series, Michael Jackson and Bubbles portrays the pop singer with his pet chimpanzee in the manner of a saint. Based on a publicity photo, the life-size sculpture, which was fabricated by Italian ceramicists, depicts Jackson as nearly white — the way in which the singer was beginning to see himself at the time. Michael Jackson and Bubbles was made in an edition of three gold-leaf plated porcelain statues. Two of the pieces are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Dana Schutz, Autopsy of Michael Jackson, 2005

“In some ways he’s the most self-made man there is, to the point of it becoming really scary,” Schutz said of Jackson in a 2006 Bomb Magazine interview. “I was thinking of the painting as a photograph that hasn’t been taken yet. I posited all these question around Michael Jackson’s death: How does he die? How old is he? What shape is he in? What does he look like naked? He ended up looking like just a dead man. Which for me was very strange. I ended up having sympathy for him. There is an immortality about him in life. In the painting there is an autopsy incision alluding to his insides, which is intrusive and contradicts the constant reforming of his external features. In the painting he is very mortal.”

Marc Quinn, Man in the Mirror, 2010

Man in the Mirror is part of the series of works that Quinn made for his Allanah, Buck, Catman, Chelsea, Michael, Pamela and Thomas show at London’s White Cube. The sculptures depict “people who have undergone extreme levels of plastic surgery and transformation, including hormone therapy, tattoos, piercing, skin bleaching, hair dying as well as implants and transplants.” Quinn made two marble versions of his Jackson sculpture — one in black face and this one, which portrays him as white.

Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II, 2009

Wiley unveiled his portrait of Jackson at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2009. Exhibited at Deitch Projects booth at the fair, Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II is a compilation of six paintings, including works by David and Rubens. “I was receiving messages saying Michael Jackson wants to reach you,” Wiley told The Art Newspaper of being commissioned for the work. “I ignored them because quite honestly I thought it was a prank.” Jackson never saw the finished work. “Michael was an extraordinarily talented person with a team who could realize his ideas as much as his performances,” said Wiley, “and I think that his idea of collaborating with me was something that he really wanted to see through…I felt a responsibility to him to get it done.” The Miami Herald dubbed the painting, which sold to a European collector for $175,000, the “King of Art Basel.”

Yan Pei Ming, Michael Jackson, 2011

Known for his giant portraits of Mao, Bruce Lee, and the Pope that are made with big, expressive brush strokes, the Paris-based Chines artist made his portrait of Michael Jackson for the 2011 Abu Dhabi Art Fair, where is was promptly sold to an anonymous collector by Yan’s dealer, David Zwirner.

David LaChapelle, American Jesus: Hold Me, Carry Me Boldly, 2010

LaChapelle’s portrait of Jackson held in Jesus’ arms (posed like Michelangelo’s Pietà sculpture, which portrays the crucified Jesus being cradled by his mother Mary) was rumored to be one of the last photos taken of the King of Pop; but the Hold Me, Carry Me Boldly, which is part of a trilogy, turned out to be a fictional image that LaChapelle shot in 2010 as a homage to Jackson with a look-alike in Hawaii.

Paul McCarthy, Michael Jackson and Bubbles (Gold), 1997-1999

McCarthy spoofs Jeff Koons’ Michael Jackson and Bubbles with a caricature version of his porcelain, kitsch masterpiece in three shades of bronze: white, black, and gold. The gold version, which is valued at $2 to 3 million, is part of the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

KAWS x Michael Jackson x Interview Magazine

Interview Magazine invited KAWS to illustrate an article about Jackson’s passing in 2009. KAWS wrapped the regal-looking Jackson in his worm-like character, Bendy, and covered the image with white-gloved hands — a nod to KAWS’ Companion character and the Jackson’s signature silver glove.

Candice Breitz, King (a portrait of Michael Jackson), 2005

Breitz’s multiple-screen video installation presents 16 of Jackson’s most ardent fans, recruited from fan sites and via ads, singing and dancing to his 1982 chart-topping song “Thriller.” Shot in a professional recording, the resulting video work offers each of the fans singing in unison with Jackson, the eternal King of Pop.