The art and design world's response to Michael Jackson's passing has been fast and furious – and in some cases prescient. Within days, sidewalk vendors in major cities were peddling King of Pop memorial t-shirts, some of them festooned with variations on Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous red, white, and blue Obama design, the caption HOPE sadly replaced with POP but not yet, as far as this reporter has seen, the plainly accurate DEAD.
As for the prescience, the Leo Kesting Gallery in the Meatpacking District was hosting an exhibition of paintings by artist Jonny Fenix when the King of Pop suddenly shuffled off. The gallery quickly erected an impromptu memorial, showcasing Fenix's work, "Michael's Jacksons", priced to sell at only $3,000. I shot a photograph of this display on fast, grainy film that had expired in the 1990's, imagining that the color cast would reveal something about the fickle finger of fame and the half-life of celebrity. As it turns out, the colors were fairly accurate. Chalk one up to enduring legends or, rather, to refrigeration as metaphor and preservation technique.
Gallery director David Kesting, who opened his space in 2003 as a showcase for "cutting-edge" artists, writes that "Fenix's visual library references the characteristics Americans love while subtly pushing us towards resolution of the negligent hypocrisy we are now becoming aware of." Among the other subtle canvasses decking these Meatpacking District walls are a hairy disembodied penis and a black Jesus flipping the viewer double-barreled fingers. Fenix knows how to get your attention, and his at times tabloid subject matter is presented with a keen design sense.
The exhibit closed on July 5th but its memory may linger in the hearts of pop-culture students and jaded gallery crawlers, while the rest of us will revel in the harder-earned but still morbid laughter evoked by the James Ensor show at MOMA.
Photo by Pat Padua. Leo Kesting Gallery, New York.