The King of Pop’s presence can be felt at Art Basel Miami Beach, the mega art fair that began yesterday with a series of private openings. Among the artworks featured prominently at the booth of New York gallery Deitch Projects is Kehinde Wiley‘s “Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II” (at right) a Rubens riff that replaces the roundfaced Spanish monarch with Michael Jackson. The massive oil painting is approximately 20 feet long and 23 feet high. The work began as a commission for the pop star, according to the gallery. Early last year, Wiley received a phone call from one “Brother Michael,” an assistant to Jackson, who asked to commission a painting based on a photograph of Jackson on one of his album covers. Wiley asked to speak directly with Jackson, and the two later connected in a 25-minute phone conversation recorded by Wiley, who described Jackson as “solidly knowledgeable about painting and its processes.” They agreed on a collaboration in which Jackson would be photographed in a pose inspired by an Old Master painting and subsequently exchanged reference images, but the project soon lost steam, as Jackson’s assistants changed phone numbers nearly as fast as their boss hopped among Las Vegas hotels. Unable to make contact, Wiley ultimately abandoned the project but decided to revive it after Jackson’s death.
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