Several versions of the late “King of Pop” are heading for the National Portrait Gallery next week with the opening of an exhibition devoted to Michael Jackson that will mark what would have been his 60th birthday.

Prominent among the Jackson-inspired art drawn together for the show by the gallery’s director Nicholas Cullinan will be items from Andy Warhol’s collection of Jackson ephemera, capped by Warhol’s own portrait of the 26-year-old singer created in 1984 for a Time magazine cover. “Michael Jackson’s songs, steps, and sexy aura set a flashy beat for the decade,” the magazine claimed then. Since that day, Jackson, who died in 2009 at the age of 50, has become the most depicted cultural figure in contemporary art.

Warhol met Jackson in 1977 in New York, where they were regulars at the nightclub Studio 54. The artist photographed the singer many times, including at the 1983 press conference for the Jacksons’ Victory tour. Featured in the show alongside some of these images are the contents of one of the personal “time capsules” of ephemera that Warhol sealed and stored. They functioned as a diary; a large number documented Warhol’s relationship with Jackson.

Michael Jackson: On the Wall will display 40 works that either feature the star or were made in response to him. However, the 1988 sculpture by Jeff Koons, of Jackson and his pet chimpanzee Bubbles, will not be there. Koons was willing for it to be included, but no version of the work was available for loan.

The gallery on London’s Trafalgar Square has had a tough time. It lost a reported 24 members of staff voluntarily due to cuts this year while last year attendance fell by more than 30 per cent, a slightly deeper dip than suffered by other major galleries and museums.



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