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Newsflash: Michael Jackson Had Good Taste

Just when you thought poor Michael had fallen into a downward spiral of gaudy, starting with that silver-glitter glove and continuing right on up to Neverland — may I present remarkable evidence of good taste: Jackson commissioned Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait.

Yes, Wiley’s work is appropriately over-the-top for Jackson, that’s probably why the King of Pop sought him out. Wiley’s a New York artist whose famous for painting ghetto-fabulous young, African-American men in juxtaposed with an old-master-style regal settings or Baroque backgrounds. They’re a beautiful study in contrasts. The modern figures are elevated while the old settings are infused with humor. His work is imaginative and wonderful.

But not the one of Jackson.

The problem here is that Jackson isn’t in street clothes so it throws off exactly what makes Wiley’s work so great. Although, eccentric Jackson probably would wear something like that to the grocery store, it just doesn’t work for a Wiley painting.  And commissions are tricky, Wiley admitted as much. He told ArtInfo, “Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much input as I would have hoped for, but I think it’s something he would have been proud of.”

The work recently sold through Wiley’s gallery, Deitch Projects, during Art Basel in Miami for $175,000, which sounds pretty low, considering all the rabid Jackson fans and the fact that the piece was a sizable 11-by-10 feet. But likely the art-insider Basel attendees knew that the Jackson piece, entitled “Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II,” wasn’t Wiley’s best. Here’s some of his more typical work.

Above: I love studying this 8’x6′ Wiley from 2005 called “Willem van Heythuysen” at the Virgina Museum of Fine Arts.

Left: Here’s a bad-ass portrait of Ice-T from 2005.

Right: And here’s an example of his more pattern-based work. Beautiful. This 8’x6′ work is called “Carry out of the Modernisations of the Fatherland,” from 2007.


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