It's hard out there for a chimp. Michael Jackson's primate companion Bubbles, once a symbol of fame and wealth so vibrant that Jeff Koons sculpted him, has turned to painting to pay the bills.
Bubbles' work will be sold at an upcoming charity show in Miami called Apes That Paint, along with 60 other chimps and orangutans raised, then abandoned, by the entertainment industry. Proceeds will benefit Bubbles' retirement home, The Center for Great Apes in Wachula, FL, where he has lived since 2005. As he aged into an aggressive, unwieldy adult, Bubbles was forced to trade in moonwalking with the King of Pop for climbing the sanctuary's social ladder. And yes, painting.
The 4.5-foot-tall, 185-pound, 34-year-old chimpanzee is now the Center for Great Apes' alpha male. He marks his territory, the Miami New Times reports, by scraping lines in the sand with a big blue bucket. The other 60 Apes That Paint are veterans of film, television, and the circus who also must live out their final days at the Center. The 10-day exhibition includes chimps from Planet of the Apes, and orangutans from the film Going Apes and an NBC soap opera called Passions. They paint as an enrichment activity reminiscent of using a stick to mine termites, to cope with the aftereffects of their humanized upbringing.
Frames USA owner Adam Brand was inspired to do the show after a client asked him to frame a painting by an orangutan. "I approached the Center for Great Apes and said, 'Let's see if we can get some money for these paintings and raise money for your center," he tells Creators. Brand compares the apes to child actors plagued by their fame and upbringing to the point that society doesn't have a natural place for them. His goal with Apes That Paint is to show "without judgement" that apes are artists, too.
Bubbles' work is reminiscent of aggressive AbEx paintings popular with young male artists in the late aughts and early 10s, but this is hardly a fair comparison. His style has been consistent since he began painting, and it's doubtful he's ever read Jerry Saltz' tirade against Zombie Formalism.
Nevertheless, Bubbles' pieces have fetched over $2,500 at auctions, and in 2012 wealthy Brazillian pop artist Romero Britto bought one at Art Basel for an undisclosed amount. However, these fundraising efforts are frankly minuscule compared to the $30 million Center for Great Apes' Patti Ragan told The Mirror was needed to sustain their cadre of 61 residents to the end of their lives. She also said Jackson's living relatives have not not contributed to Bubbles' care.
Brand says Apes That Paint has taken off like no other show in his gallery's 25-year history. Hollywood could continue to raise The Center for Great Apes' profile later this year, thanks to a stop-motion film about Bubbles' life is directed by Taika Waititi of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok and Mark Gustafson of Fantastic Mr. Fox. While the film has not been approved by the Jackson estate, it could boost the Center for Great Apes' fundraising efforts.
Apes That Paint opens July 21 at Frames USA in Miami.
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