View photos of the memorabilia in the “Portraits from the King of Pop's Psyche” and “Michael Jackson's Arcade & Other Neverland Ranch Oddities” slideshows and watch the video here.
We know every mole on Michael Jackson’s body, what brand of soda he was drinking when his hair caught fire; we can sing along with every word to a dozen of his songs — and so can a billion others around the world. The King of Pop. He Who Moonwalks. We know already. What else is there?
For many, nothing. The arc of Jackson’s life has been infused with so much awe and/or melancholia and/or disgust that it’s impossible to separate the story from the setting, the props or the soundtrack. There are no surprises left, it seems.
Monday, however, Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills opened its doors to preview an astounding array of Michael Jackson memorabilia that was set to be put up for sale on April 25. Past a Rolls-Royce limo parked in front of the old Robinsons-May department store, and on the other side of the red carpet, a vast and awe-inspiring set of Jackson’s possessions was on display. The collection offered a surreal glimpse inside the artist’s world, as close as you’ll get to being in his head during a strange and tumultuous period of his life, when he went on one of the 20th century’s great shopping sprees.
Reading about the objects — the video games, the cars, the rococo statues, the impossible outfits — is one thing. But to pass through mingle among the bounty is, for the pop-culture fan and Americana appreciator, something of a thrill: the glitter gloves and rhinestone caps; the portraits and the wax figurines; custom-embroidered patches; monogrammed brooch sets; custom jackets; Macaulay Culkin original art; Walt Disney and Looney Tunes memorabilia; the Jackson 5’s gold 45s. Multiply that list by 1,000, and you end up a little wobbly-kneed as you peruse the holdings, drunk with the vision of unchecked consumption.
Being the kid in the proverbial candy store sounds fun, but few imagine him a few hours later, lying on the ground, his face smeared with nougat and marshmallow cream, candy corn strewn like marbles, Fanta puddled in the aisle. The auction at Julien’s would have featured the candy corn of Michael Jackson’s indulgence. At Monday’s press preview, camera crews, reporters and photographers from all over the world wandered the huge space with glassy-eyed expressions, many displaying a kind of depth and richness of emotion that rises from all unfulfilled fantasies. That Jackson was suing to stop the auction (even though he’d signed the contracts hiring Julien’s) conferred yet another level of melancholy. Little did onlookers know that by the end of the next day, the auction would be called off after the two sides reached a settlement. The collection, it seems, will remain intact.
Some time in the mid- to late 1990s, I visited the Chicago apartment where the legendary hermitic artist Henry Darger created his visual masterworks. His vast output — mostly watercolors and writings — had been discovered by Darger’s landlord after the artist’s death, and comprised an entire lifetime of creating an imaginary world whose inhabitants were oddly pansexual little girls fighting off monsters and armies. Darger, who lived alone and worked as a janitor, would return to his second-story apartment and spend the nights creating this fantasy world. I toured his space around the time of Darger’s first major show. Stacks of children’s coloring books and 16-shade plastic watercolor trays were spread across the tables. He collected rolled balls of twine, which were piled like cannonballs on a shelf. You could smell the musk of newsprint, dust and worn-out furniture. A solitary chair sat at the main table, which is where Darger would lay his head down to sleep each night after drawing, writing and painting.
Walking through the Neverland holdings felt eerily similar to invading Henry Darger’s room and seeing this very private, magical world. Had Jackson never struck it rich, his fantasies may have manifested themselves much like Darger’s. Touched as he was with imagination, thrilled with the visual feast that is life, Jackson’s creative outlet — consumption — may have been more vulgar than Darger’s but was not nearly as vulgar as that of Elvis Presley, who died with 14 different drugs in his system. If Jackson’s singular collection had been dismantled as planned, an important aggregation of both pomp and circumstance would have vanished. But according to a statement released by the auction house and Jackson’s spokesman, the two sides “have made arrangements that will allow the collection to be shared with and enjoyed by Jackson’s fans for many years to come.”
Until then, perhaps it’s best to follow Willy Wonka’s advice: “If you want to view paradise/simply look around and view it/Anything you want to, do it.”