Controversy unfolded on Twitter over the weekend as users noticed a striking similarity between photographer Juergen Teller’s months-old Rihanna photoshoot for Vogue Paris and the signature aesthetic of artist Mickalene Thomas. The issue here seems more than pure coincidence; both artists are represented by the same gallery, Lehmann Maupin, making it highly unlikely that Teller could plead ignorance to appropriating Thomas’ style.
Although Teller is primarily known as a fashion photographer, Lehmann Maupin represents his fine art practice. In a statement given to Hyperallergic, the gallery clarified that they were not consulted or involved in his work for Vogue Paris.
“We will continue to represent Juergen in this capacity and are hopeful that there will be a resolution between these two artists. As we have publicly stated, we wholeheartedly stand behind Mickalene Thomas and her signature aesthetic,” the gallery added.
Thus far, Teller has chosen not to make a comment. The wider-released statement by the gallery is below:
In response to the images of Rihanna by Juergen Teller in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Vogue Paris, which have rightly been compared to Mickalene Thomas’ work, Lehmann Maupin wishes to share the following statement:
Mickalene Thomas’ prolific body of work has been instrumental in addressing inequality within art history and art institutions through her representation and reclamation of traditional art historical genres and depictions of beauty and desire around the female body, particularly Black women, who have too long been marginalized in our culture. Throughout her career, Mickalene has developed an internationally recognized visual language that is deeply rooted in photography but encompasses collage, painting, video, and immersive installation. Mickalene has earned the right to be recognized and commended for her groundbreaking contributions to contemporary art and visual culture, and for a signature aesthetic that she has been cultivating for decades. As Mickalene’s longtime gallery and advocate, we vigorously stand by her in defending the originality of her work.
Over the past few years, Thomas has gained notoriety as one of this generation’s leading American artists. Just a few months ago, she starred alongside legendary artists Robert Colescott and Kerry James Marshall in the Seattle Art Museum’s Figuring History exhibition.
Even a casual viewer of Teller’s work will observe the photographer’s similar use of patterns and textures akin to those Thomas’ has employed in her work. The visual collaging of these textiles weaves a deep narrative of African-American culture within art history. There are also many sly references to the work of important African artists and photographers, like the Malian artist Seydou Keita. Accordingly, Teller appropriated these references in Thomas’ work for his Vogue Paris photoshoot, but it’s unclear if he understood exactly where these references were coming from.