King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) 2005 At Wellington’s City Gallery Is A Thriller

Sources: – By Tom Cardy| All Things Michael


This year marks 33 years since Michael Jackson’s album Thriller was released and went on to be one of the biggest-selling albums in history.

Such is the popularity of the album and Jackson, it has even permeated the art world. At Wellington’s City Gallery you can view the multi-screen King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) by South African artist Candice Breitz.

In the work 16 Jackson fans perform the album in its entirety, from Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ to The Lady in My Life and everything in between, including Beat It, Billie Jean and the title track. At no point are there any images of Jackson himself.

Breitz, who over the past decade has become one of South Africa’s top artists, says her interest in Thriller started when the album was released. She was 10 years old at the time. “I was fascinated by the frenzy around the Thrilleralbum . . . Even back then, the album was of particular interest to me because of the response that it produced, the millions of listeners that it reached, the cult audience that it generated, the way in which it made it possible to observe and track the dynamics of a star and his fans in very stark terms.”

King, created in 2005, is actually part of a series of works of big name music stars made around that time. The first was Legend (A Portrait of Bob Marley), which Breitz shot in Jamaica. “It was the one that percolated in my mind for the longest period of time. Being the first work in what I knew I wanted to turn into a series, Legend prompted me to reflect very specifically on what I was aiming for both formally and in terms of the broader set of questions that I hoped the series would evoke.”

But how did Breitz find her 16 Jackson fans? “I advertised in newspapers, online forums and fanzines,” she says.

“Once fans responded, the first step was to explain to them exactly what I was doing, in other words that I was seeking performers to participate in a work of art, rather than being somebody who could advance a musical career or career in showbiz.

“Some respondents dropped out at that stage. Those who did not were sent a long questionnaire made up of questions about why they were interested in Michael Jackson and his music. The final participants were those who, upon reading their answers to these questions, seemed most invested in Michael Jackson as an icon and as a musician. They were selected on this basis, rather than on the basis of their appearance or musical ability.”


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