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Michael Jackson art show opens in Finland despite controversy

The exhibition, at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Finland, brings together old and new works depicting the iconic pop star and his impact on popular culture.


AN EXHIBITION of art inspired by Michael Jackson opened on 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 the Finnish capital. 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.

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The exhibition will nevertheless run "as planned", organisers said, with a text at the entrance acknowledging that "current conversations may have changed the way the exhibition is interpreted".

"We cannot shy away from these difficult subjects and we of course condemn all kinds of abuse," said Arja Miller, the chief curator at Espoo Museum of Modern Art.

"But we also want to provide a platform for open discussion and for artists' voices. This exhibition and these artists are not celebrating Michael Jackson, but analysing his meaning in our culture," she added.

Ms 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 said.

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.

Mr Mihaltianu said that interest in his piece, from 1994, has grown again every time Michael Jackson has hit the headlines over the years. "He will stay as an icon somehow, you cannot just erase him," he said. AFP