Michael Jackson: On The Wall @ National Portrait Gallery – Review

Welcome sign that greets visitors as they enter ‘Michael Jackson: On The Wall’

Everyone can remember where they were when they heard the news Michael Jackson died. I certainly do – it was a boiling hot day in June 2009, and it seemed for a split second, the world stopped turning.

Although it’s been almost ten years since the incomparable King of Pop’s sudden demise, the mark Michael Jackson left on art and pop culture continues to run stronger than ever. So much so that the National Portrait Gallery has unveiled a ground-breaking exhibition, in which dozens of versatile artists from around the globe have contributed their MJ-inspired creations, in order to produce a larger-than-life display.

Fourteen (yes, fourteen!) rooms consume ‘On The Wall’; each showcasing art based on a different era of Michael Jacksons career. Room highlights of the exhibition are found in the ‘King of Pop’ area and in the vast ‘Man in the Mirror’ landscape. You enter the latter through a narrow hole inside a large recreation of Jackson’s 1991 ‘Dangerous‘ album cover, as if you were opening the doors to ‘Michael Jackson Heaven’.

Sponsored by both Hugo Boss and Sony Music, ‘On The Wall’ has been certainly been produced with style in mind – once you enter the first hall, subtly titled ‘The Alphabet of Michael Jackson’, you are instantly immersed in the luxurious life that Jackson lived; it is clear that the exhibition is sponsored by Boss. 

Contributors for the exhibition include Isa Genzken, David Hammons, Glenn Ligon, Kehinde Wiley, and of course, Andy Warhol. Warhol’s iconic ‘Michael Jackson 23‘ screen-prints are featured in the same room as several pieces of collectors items from his heyday, including MJ dolls, press cuttings from Rolling Stone and glove-shaped invitations from the time of Thrillers release.

Visitors were also swarmed around the three-metre-long Kehinde Wiley oil painting that depicts Michael Jackson as a Napoleon-type figure, riding into battle on a horse. This was the final artwork commissioned by Jackson prior to his death, and sadly, he never lived to see the completed piece.

One thing the tribute lacked was information – whilst the exhibition excelled in the art itself, several pieces (especially those in the centre of the room) were not accompanied with enough detail for visitors to full appreciate them. For instance, in the room ‘Which Mike Do You Want to Be Like?’, three microphones are positioned in the rooms centre, intended to represent the three major ‘Michaels’ of the eighties – Jackson, Tyson, and Jordan. However, looking at the art, an average visitor may struggle to find the information that is meant to go alongside the piece.

Leah Dickson, visiting from Brighton to see the art, couldn’t help but express her joy at seeing all the fascinating pieces. She said of the exhibition, ‘it’s as if MJ has been resurrected – I love that there are so many rooms to explore – it shows how much depth there was to Michael Jackson, and that he lives on through his music, art and fashion’.

Being one of the biggest selling artists of all time, and with a killer posthumous exhibition now under his belt, Michael Jackson’s star still shows no sign of burning out. After the exhibition runs its course in London, it will move to Paris’ Le Grand Palais beginning November 23. 

‘Michael Jackson: On The Wall’ runs until October 21, with tickets ranging from £5-23. More information on the exhibition can be found on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.