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Espoo museum presses ahead with Michael Jackson exhibition despite Leaving Neverland furore

A museum in Espoo has confirmed it is still planning to show a Michael Jackson exhibition in the autumn despite renewed controversy about the singer.

Taiteilija David LaChapellen teos "An Illuminating Path".
An Illuminating Path by David LaChapelle Image: David LaChapelle

Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA) is ploughing on with plans to host a Michael Jackson exhibition this autumn as the museum’s main exhibition this year, despite an ongoing controversy over accusations of child sexual abuse.

Since early March audiences in Britain and the United States have been watching the Leaving Neverland documentary, which details claims by Wade Robson and James Safechuck that Jackson abused them when they were children.

The film has changed perceptions about Jackson. Radio stations have removed his songs from playlists, Oprah Winfrey has declared every parent should watch the movie, and Jackson has even been edited out of old Simpsons episodes.

There has also been a backlash from Michael Jackson truthers, who declare that the singer was innocent.

The Jackson estate has launched legal proceedings against HBO, which made the film.

EMMAn museonjohtaja Pilvi Kalhama
Pilvi Kalhama Image: Ari Karttunen / EMMA

At the same time as discussion around Jackson has escalated, Espoo’s cultural attraction EMMA has been preparing to host a major exhibition detailing representations of the deceased musician.

Museum director Pilvi Kalhama told Svenska Yle that the exhibition isn’t a homage to Jackson, and that the museum condemns paedophilia—but she has not seen the film in its entirety.

“The charges levelled in the film are shocking,” said Kalhama. “Our role is not to take a position on his guilt or innocence, but we can offer a space for discussion.”

Michael Jackson: On the Wall is EMMA’s main exhibition this year, and its arrival has been negotiated for three years.

“There are sensitive, questionable and contradictory factors around him,” said Kalhama. “As an art museum we don’t want fan-based exhibitions. It became clear that the exhibition touches on really important societal themes, like ethnic origins, gender, publicity and the flip side of fandom. It was exactly that aspect that attracted us to the show.”

Featuring more than 80 works from artists including Andy Warhol, Grayson Perry and Isa Genzken, Michael Jackson: On the Wall was shown in Paris after it was launched at the National Portrait Gallery in London last year.

Kalhama says EMMA has already decided to make some changes to some aspects of the exhibition, and may offer extra space for discussion events, but that the museum’s role is to act as a neutral space.

Leaving Neverland will be shown on Yle’s TV2 and Yle Areena in early April.

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