A portrait of Michael Jackson reclaimed by the artist after the King of Pop's death in 2009 is at the centre of an ownership war - because the late pop star's longtime friend and dermatologist insists the piece is rightfully his.
Dr. Arnold Klein and photographer/filmmaker David LaChappelle, who created the religious-themed work which depicts Jackson as Jesus Christ, have been bickering over the painting-like photo for more than a year, but the row only recently came to light when officials at the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office opted not to bring criminal charges against the artist, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Klein has accused LaChapelle of stealing the artwork he created, titled American Jesus. The artist admits he took the photograph, but insists he committed no crime in doing so.
In legal papers, obtained by the Times, prosecutor Jennifer Turkat writes, "Neither victim nor suspect can be corroborated. There is no physical evidence."
LaChapelle showed the piece at exhibitions in galleries around the world after Jackson’s death, hiring models to recreate the photograph, based on the traditional scene of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Christ.The work has been valued at $48,000 (£30,000).
The item was returned to LaChappelle by Dr. Klein for repair after it was damaged in a 2010 fire at the medic's home.
At the time, he described the portrait as a gift from the photographer. LaChapelle refused to return it, telling prosecutors the artwork wasn’t a gift, but compensation for dermatological services that Klein had failed to provide him.