Michael Jackson: On The Wall exhibition

Nearly 10 years since his death, the National Portrait Gallery is paying tribute with Michael Jackson: On The Wall, from 28 June until 21 October. Scroll on to watch our video of the gallery’s big summer show, then read about the moments when MJ thrilled London.

The gallery brings together more than 40 artists, from David LaChapelle to Andy Warhol, in a look at the singer’s huge impact on art. The gallery’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, says: ‘It is rare that there is something new to say about someone so famous. This will open up new avenues for thinking about art and identity, and invite audiences to engage with contemporary art.’

As the gallery examines his influence on contemporary art, we look at the moments when MJ thrilled London.

Wembley Stadium
If you ever need convincing of what a mind-blowing performer Michael Jackson was, just watch any performance from his Bad tour, which came to Wembley Stadium in 1988. On the night that Princess Diana and Prince Charles attended, Jackson did not perform Dirty Diana out of respect. Jackson said: ‘I met [Diana] first at my concert. She took me away and said, “Are you going to do Dirty Diana?” I said, “No.” She said, “No, do it, do the song.” She told me she was honoured to meet me. I said, “It was an honour to meet you.”’ 

The O2
It’s 5 March 2009. There are 7,000 screaming fans and 350 reporters from around the world filling up The O2 arena, all ready for an announcement. When the singer finally arrived, 90 minutes late, he declared: ‘These will be my final shows in London. When I say “this is it”, it really means this is it. I’ll be performing the songs my fans want to hear – this is the final curtain call.’ The prospect of his 10-date tour, which quickly turned into a 50-date tour, was widely reported as having contributed to his death.

Thriller Live 
When the show Thriller Live opened at the Lyric Theatre on 21 January 2009, it became an unexpected success. Conceived by the Jackson family and producer Adrian Grant, the show is a tribute to Jackson with non-stop singing and dancing – just don’t expect a narrative. The jukebox musical takes us from his early days singing I Want You Back, to the debut of his moonwalk during Billie Jean. If you’ve never seen Jackson perform, this is the closest you will get. While Jackson was never involved in the production, there have been rumours that it has been watched by his sister, Janet Jackson. It is now The Lyric’s longest-running show.

Madame Tussauds
Getting a Madame Tussauds waxwork made of you is a clear ‘you’ve made it’ moment. Michael Jackson got his first waxwork on 28 March 1985. This was clearly an important moment for him, as he decided to visit the venue. As he was at the height of his fame, when his limousine stopped outside it was instantly mobbed by crowds. In true Jackson fashion, he climbed on to the top of his car, white glove waving, so that all his fans could see of him. With 13 figures made for Madame Tussauds London, he is the second-most featured famous figure ever, with only the Queen having been portrayed more often.

River Thames
Not many people have the confidence to have a statue of themselves made, let alone float it down one of the most famous rivers in the world. To coincide with the release of his greatest hits, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, a figure was made to replicate the cover image. The imposing statue, which was almost nine metres-tall and weighed 9,000kg, was part of a publicity stunt to promote the album. 

Michael Jackson on the wall National Portrait Gallery London An Audience by Rodney McMillian
Michael Jackson: On the Wall is at the National Portrait Gallery
from 28 June to 21 October

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
T: 020-7306 0055

Top image: An Illuminating Path by David LaChapelle 1998. Courtesy of the artist © David LaChapelle.
Bottom image: An Audience (excerpts from Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Special, 2001) by Rodney McMillian 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

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