American Jesus: Glam for God

After feasting on Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Last Supper at the Brooklyn Museum, I attended the opening of David LaChapelle’s American Jesus with some anticipation. After all, this noted postmodern fashion photographer, who has been shooting celebrities for magazines like Rolling Stone for over twenty years, got his start when Andy Warhol invited him to submit his work to Interview magazine. Would LaChapelle depict Jesus a la Lady Gaga or go for a more revisiting of the masters as he did in an earlier exhibit titled Jesus is My Homeboy?

Upon first entering the Paul Kasmin Gallery in Chelsea, I found some relief from the heat wave with some sparkling water—what no Cristal?—and surveyed the landscape. Suffice to say, a geeky writer like myself didn’t exactly didn’t fit in with the glitterati that included downtown fixtures like transsexual icon Amanda Lepore. (Mild understatement.) Nor was I connecting to these photographs—in particular, “Thy Kingdom” depicted the greed and corruption in the Catholic Church in a manner that was perhaps a bit too porno than prophetic for my tastes.

But then I went into the room where three photographs depicted Michael Jackson as though he were a modern day matyr. And I went back. Again. And again. I just couldn’t take my eyes off these haunting images of a dead man-child being caressed by Fabio Jesus or rising like an angel to defeat Satan.

When asked by the New York Observer about his Michael Jackson portraits, which were shot using a look-a-like, LaChapelle responded:

I really believe he was persecuted and a modern-day martyr. Now that the smoke is clearing, everyone is saying, “Oh, wow, that was treated badly.” He loved children and spoke about seeing the face of God in them. For some reason, people took a lot of pleasure in watching his demise. These pictures represent the real Michael Jackson to me. He was pure and innocent.

Heaven only knows if the king of pop was an angel here on earth. But LaChapelle’s work brings to mind the need for use to seek redemption not retribution for as my buddy Jon Birch over at Asbo Jesus reminds us, we tend to crucify that which we once idolized.

David LaChapelle’s American Jesus runs through September 18th at the Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 10th Avenue in New York.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).