The Hottest Sale at Last Week’s Art Basel Miami Beach Fair: Michael Jackson

12/08/2009 2:21 PM |

Kehinde Wiley Michael Jackson portrait

In keeping with predictions, last week’s constellation of art fairs in Miami yielded big sales, particularly of works by young and emerging artists. One such young artist—although he’s pretty much a vetted art star at this point—Kehinde Wiley, made the biggest sale of the weekend, at least in terms of buzz if not in actual financial significance. Artinfo reports that Wiley’s painting “Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II” (pictured) was on display at the Deitch Projects booth, the Soho gallery that represents him, and sold for $175,000 to an unnamed collector (although Art In America claims it was sold to a Berlin museum).

The painting, obviously, depicts Michael Jackson as a Renaissance king on a horse, and was commissioned by the pop star last year, but was finished after his death in June. Jackson reportedly liked Wiley’s baroque, hyper-realist paintings of young black men against bright, lush backdrops, and approached him for a portrait with a very strict set of requests—presumably something along the lines of: “Don’t make me look like a freak, make me look awesome in the least tacky way possible.” The sale’s not terribly surprising in light of the popularity of Michael Jackson art. On the other hand, two Wiley paintings of Michelle and Barack Obama didn’t find buyers in Miami.