Photographer Juergen Teller has been accused of copying the aesthetic of artist Mickalene Thomas in a Vogue Paris photoshoot with pop superstar Rihanna. Though the issue in question is the December 2017/January 2018 edition, suggestions that Teller replicated Thomas’s aesthetic without crediting her have recently gained prominence on social media. That, in fact, is how Lehmann Maupin—the gallery that represents both Teller and Thomas—first heard about the issue. This morning, the gallery released a statement in support of Thomas. It reads:
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 ground-breaking contributions to contemporary art and visual culture, and for a signature aesthetic that she has been cultivating for decades. As Mickalene’s long-time gallery and advocate, we vigorously stand by her in defending the originality of her work.
The photos Teller shot for Vogue Paris feature Rihanna in poses and boldly patterned clothes reminiscent of Thomas’s famous images of black women wearing glamorous clothes and makeup in household settings. The backdrops of Teller’s photos also feature patchwork décor and domestic materials that strongly evoke the collage aesthetic of Thomas’s work. Though these formal similarities flew under the radar at first, recent social media commentary brought the issue to the attention of the artists’ gallery.
“Lehmann Maupin has historically represented Juergen Teller’s fine art practice which is separate from his commercial and editorial work,” a spokesperson for the gallery told Artsy over email. “As such, we 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.”
Mickalene Thomas, Lovely Six Foota (2007), c-print. Image © Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.