Michael Jackson and Bubbles-Made of Porcelain, by Jeff Koons
With the speed of the Internet, this is not news anymore. But I have been pondering what to do about this since I heard last night. Michael Jackson was a cultural icon, and he was an amazing entertainer. Even for a cynic like me, I always loved Michael as a musician. But the fact is, in this world, there is no such thing as a musician when you aim for mass popularity. You become something else. And Michael became something else.
Many people are using this time to revere the man. I respect that, but this is an art blog. I would like to look at that aspect of the man. Above is one of the most famous images by Jeff Koons, who may be my favorite contemporary artist. Koons is not a ceramicist, he is conceptual. In fact, the story is often told up here in Alfred, that in the mid 80's when this piece was made. Koons contacted the School, to see about having it made. They turned down the offer (We are a school, not a production facility) Eventually the piece was made in Italy.
It is a beautiful piece, well made and impactful. And Porcelain. That is what makes this piece so important. We have to remember that this piece came out in 1988, and was conceived of years before. If you are younger than me, then you only have the image of Jackson as a freak show. As this constantly morphing thing. Independent of physical identity. Trying to disguise race and personality. Koons caught on to that early. By making the man out of porcelain, he captured this idea of achieving whiteness. Of ones ability to make themselves into what they want and then of the lack of ability to change once fired, when that is all one works for. Trapped in history, trapped in yourself. Glorious, yet stagnant. It was a profound observation and piece of work 20 years ago, and today.
The title of this blog post is dervied form a long form essay titled On Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson. You can get it at Amazon or Listen to it from Audibe. It is amazing cultural study on Him and Us. How all of us got to this place, more than anything Michael Jackson was a reflection of all of us. And today we are missing part of our identity.