New York Post July 15, 2010

A REAL 'THRILLER' OF AN ART SHOW

'He was a modern-day martyr, a messenger — and he was innocent!" So says David LaChapelle of Michael Jackson, the man who got away — from the celebrity photographer's lens.

And while LaChapelle shot to fame on his startling, sometimes surreal fashion ads and portraits of icons David Bowie, David Beckham, Elton John, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and a gaggle of others, he never did get the Gloved One.

Now, however, LaChapelle's made Jackson the focal point of his new show, "American Jesus" — five oversize digital photos, three of them featuring a dead ringer for MJ.

The photo that bears the name of the show sums up the over-the-top tone: In it, a bearded man in tattered clothes holds the singer's limp body as one sequined glove glitters amid the moss.

The artfully staged tableaux — including the X-rated "Thy Kingdom Come," with its male nudes, and a Botticelli remix starring Naomi Campbell as Venus — are at Chelsea's Paul Kasmin Gallery. And yes, they're for sale: at about $90,000 each.

The 47-year-old LaChapelle spoke passionately the other day about growing up gay, Catholic and suicidal in Fairfield, Conn., and finding salvation (and photography) at the North Carolina School for the Arts. Twice he burst into tears recounting the trials of the King of Pop, whose first name he has tattooed on a ring finger. Although they hadn't met, the two had mutual friends. "He knew I was on his side," says LaChapelle, who staged these shots at his farm in Maui.

Below, LaChapelle shares his thoughts about two of his works.
"American Jesus": Paul Kasmin Gallery through Sept. 18; 293 10th Ave.; 212-563-4474.

"RAPE OF AFRICA"
* What we see: Naomi Campbell, dripping with gold, in a ripped tunic. There's a sleeping man across from her and cherubic boys wielding machine guns.
* What LaChapelle says: "The idea came to me at the National Gallery in London [where I saw] Botticelli's 'Venus and Mars.' Botticelli used the biggest beauty of his time, so who else but Naomi? She flew herself from London to shoot this.

The idea is that, in our quest for gold, for security, we're raping Mother Earth and Mother Africa . . . One child cried through the entire shoot, the lamb kept running off, and Naomi said, 'No, we don't have it yet,' and kept holding the pose. The flies? They're real dead horseflies."

"ARCHANGEL MICHAEL, 2009"
* What we see: A white-winged, black-clad MJ, stepping on a writhing, red Satan.
* What LaChapelle says: "I had the wings made in 1984 for a show called 'Angels, Saints and Martyrs.' This was before digital [photography], and a lot of my friends were dying of AIDS. I had just $2,000 in the bank and went to this great props person and said, 'I want four pairs of wings.'
. . . The devil? He's one of my best friends. He's with Cirque du Soleil, and his name is Jesus. There's a little devil in all of us!"

By Barbara Hoffman

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