German museum goes ahead with Michael Jackson exhibition despite controversy | Arts | DW | 22.03.2019
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Arts

German museum goes ahead with Michael Jackson exhibition despite controversy

An exhibition of art focusing on Michael Jackson is opening in Bonn's Bundeskunsthalle, amid fresh controversy over the singer's alleged abuse of children. The show's organizers say they want to open the debate.

Michael Jackson exhibition 'American Jesus: Hold me, carry me boldly' by US artist David LaChapelle (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Meissner)

'American Jesus: Hold me, carry me boldly' by US artist David LaChapelle

The show at Bonn's Bundeskunsthalle was conceived long before the recent broadcast of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which details Jackson's alleged molestation of two boys.

"Michael Jackson: On the Wall" was first shown at London's National Portrait Gallery, where it was developed, and then moved on to the Grand Palais in Paris, where the show ran through February 14. 

But the image of the "King of Pop" has since completely changed. While there had been similar accusations in the past, by revealing soul-shaking testimonies of 40-year-old James Safechuck and 36-year-old Wade Robson, the documentary, which first aired on March 3 and 4, has led various radio stations throughout the world to stop playing Jackson's music.

Read more: Michael Jackson: German media reserved about new allegations

Rein Wolfs, director of the Bundeskunsthalle (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Kaiser)

Rein Wolfs, director of the Bundeskunsthalle

Despite the renewed indignation against the deceased pop superstar, the art museum in western Germany has decided to hold the exhibition as planned, from March 22 to July 14. "Especially now, when new abuse accusations have come to light, it's important to reassess the 'King of Pop,'" said Rein Wolfs, director at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn.

Rather than being a homage, the exhibition shows Jackson from varying, even critical, angles, the director said at a press presentation ahead of the opening: "I believe it's better to have a platform that enables discussion rather than simply to extinguish a cultural memory." 

From its very conception, the show "was never celebratory," added British curator Nicholas Cullinan, also present in Bonn for the opening. "It's about the complexity of Michael Jackson, how he means very different things to many very different people."

Jackson, who died in 2009, wrote pop history in so many different ways that it would be impossible to blot him out of cultural memory. "We can't rewrite history, but we can reframe it," said Cullinan.

The exhibition features 134 artworks by 53 artists, including different depictions of the pop star by prominent artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Isa Genzken, Yan Pei Ming, and David LaChapelle, whose triptych "America Jesus" plays on Catholic iconography.

Read more: Michael Jackson sex abuse allegations: Boycotts are 'ludicrous,' says ethics professor

'American Jesus: Archangel Michael: And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer,' David LaChapelle(David LaChapelle)

'American Jesus: Archangel Michael: And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer,' also by LaChapelle

Facing the tough questions

The Jackson Estate has filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO and has called the accusations a "posthumous character assassination" of the late singer. The estate is one of the main contributors to the exhibition, but Wolfs said the museum will not shy away from questions about abuse allegations.

The exhibition opens with a written statement reacting to the Leaving Neverland testimonies: "The accusations made by the alleged victims are shocking. We see it as our responsibility not to ignore this issue."

The documentary will air for the first time on April 6 on German television. A panel discussion will be held at the Bundeskunsthalle on the following day.

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