Friday, July 3, 2009

Michael Jackson and Art Collecting-- Death Was a Smart Career Move

Today columnist Liz Smith asked “Will there be no end to this?”—‘This’ being the wall-to-wall coverage of every little Michael Jackson-related bit of ‘news’.”

I agree, but I can’t stop reading everything about Michael’s life and pitiful death, because the story’s got as many plot twists as an Agatha Christie novel. Two days ago we learned that the real father of Michael’s two oldest children was his dermatologist. Who knew? Yesterday I read that Michael would throw away his children’s toys every night, when they were little, (for fear of the germs that might be on them) and buy new ones. Today we learned that Debbie Rowe, the nurse who gave birth to the first two children, is going to try to get custody from Michael’s mother. (In the past Michael convinced Debbie to give up her claims – twice — with infusions of cash. She has never lived in the same house as the children.)

I hope, for their sake, that whoever gets custody, the children will have near them Grace, that nanny from Rwanda (originally she was a personal assistant to Michael) because I think she’s the person they bonded with and she seems to be the only person in this story who is not motivated by the desire for money. (I could be proved wrong about that. Tune in tomorrow.)

Michael Jackson was an art collector. He would go into a gallery and buy millions of dollars of paintings in one shopping trip. As far as his taste in art, I read that he commissioned – and hung in his most recent home — a copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper with the figure of Michael in place of Christ. The disciples included dead celebrities like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe.

Today’s New York Times (July 3) had an interview with an art gallery owner from whom Michael had ordered numerous copies of Norman Rockwell paintings of children and animals — he had them framed but never picked them up. The Times also reported that Neverland is deserted and the rooms empty, except for numerous statues throughout the grounds of children at play.

Despite my reading all the flood of Michael news, on Wednesday I found a rather sad and, as far as I know pretty much unreported, story about Michael and his art in – of all places — “Antiques and the Arts Weekly”—a fat newspaper that I get once a week about the antique trade, published by The Bee Publishing Company in Newtown Connecticut. (Everyone calls the paper “The Bee”.)

The newspaper, dated July 3, had two separate stories about sales of Michael Jackson memorabilia. The first article described the sale on May 1 (weeks before his death) of items from the Hollywood Wax Museum, which has evidently closed down after 44 years. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a true piece of Hollywood history,” said the president of Profiles in History which ran the sale. Life-size figures of Jesus and his disciples (from Da Vinci’s Last Supper — no Hollywood celebs in this version) went for $15,340. You sort of wonder how the buyer will work that into his home’s décor. Michael Jackson’s costume from the 1988 “Bad” concert went for $35,400. That, of course, was before his death.

More revealing and sad was the second news story describing a sale in Las Vegas of twenty-one items once owned by Jackson and given to David Gest. You remember him -- “the producer and promoter once married to Liza Minelli”, the article explained. “Jackson introduced the couple and was best man at their wedding.”

This sale in Las Vegas, held by Julien’s Auctions at the Planet Hollywood hotel-casino, had estimated the Jackson items would go for about $6,000 for the entire collection. But that was before he died. Turns out the auction, held as scheduled on June 26, the day after he died, went for a total of $205,000.

A 55-year–old Tina Turner impersonator named Larry Edwards came to the auction intending to buy a drawing of an African-American Mickey Mouse, drawn in primary colors when Michael was a child and signed “Mike Jackson.” (Don’t you think it’s sad that the child Michael imagined Mickey Mouse as an African American but as an adult, when he was ordering up his children, he decided to have them be Caucasian?)

My friend Bill Wallace, director of the Worcester Historical Museum and one of the world’s great collectors of Disneyana, told me about an auction in Los Angeles when he paid a premium to get in early before the doors opened and found himself standing next to Michael Jackson as they both examined a rare 1930’s Mickey Mouse tea set in its original box. They decided that the price was too low — there must be something wrong with this treasure. Then, as the doors opened to the general public, Michael’s keepers whisked him away.

The Tina Turner impersonator was ready to pay $1,000 for the childish drawing of Mickey but the opening bid was $1,500 and it finished at $20,000 plus a 25 percent commission.

The most expensive item in the collection was a Swarovski crystal-beaded shirt worn in Michael’s 1984 Victory tour that went for $52,500. The man who bought it said “I see Elvis Presley costumes go for a quarter of a million….I’m hoping this will be an investment.”

That’s a pretty good bet.

One of the most revealing and sad items sold in that auction was a handwritten note from Michael to someone named Greg. The misspelled and badly punctuated letter was undated. He wrote:

“Thanks for a magic moment in my life, I hope it was the same for you, please come visit me at Neverland. Lets hope this is the beginning of a lovy friendship and never lose your boyish spirit its immortal.”

The note sold to an unidentified bidder on the phone for $18,750.

Also in today’s Times there was an article about Jeff Koons, the artist who specializes in pop art — if that’s how you describe a giant “balloon dog”. I enjoy his work. Some of it was on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum last year. Now he’s opened a show in London featuring an inflatable lobster and many paintings of Popeye with his can of spinach. (You may recall that Koons has also done statues of himself making love to his ex-wife who was an Italian ex-porn star.)

One of Jeff Koons’ most famous works is pictured above — a life-sized statue of Michael Jackson with his chimpanzee Bubbles. (He had to give Bubbles away because the animal started getting aggressive about the time Michael started having children.)

At the end of the long article about the new exhibit, The Times mentioned the Bubbles and Michael statue. “His 1988 sculpture of Mr. Jackson with Bubbles was decorated with gold metallic paint and brought $5.6 million when it sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 2001. Larry Gagosian, the New York dealer who represents Mr. Koons, said on Wednesday that if one from the edition (he made three along with an artist’s proof) was to come up for sale now, it could make more than $20 million. ‘And that’s conservative,’ he added.”

Good thing I don’t have twenty million to buy that statue. I don’t know how I’d ever work it into my home’s décor.


Native Daughter said...

Interesting post Joan. I'm torn between which is more diagnostic--the spectacle or all of us watching it!


Anonymous said...

"Smart career move"-- I love it!