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Did Juergen Teller borrow from Mickalene Thomas’s work in Vogue Paris Rihanna shoot?

Thomas’s gallery Lehmann Maupin—which also represents Teller—says it hopes there is “a resolution between the two artists”

Mickalene Thomas, Lovely Six Foota (2007) © Mickalene Thomas / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Eagle-eyed twitter users have launched a debate over a photoshoot of the megastar Rihanna by Juergen Teller for Vogue Paris published in December, which appears to draw heavily on the work of the US artist Mickalene Thomas.

On 22 July, after the twitter user STEVE JXSEPH (@STEVEJXSEPH) posted images from the spread, the user JOPLMBO (@joplmbo) questioned whether the German photographer is “totally ripping off” Thomas’s work, an opinion offered up by other users as well.

Lehmann Maupin gallery issued a statement today, 24 July, in response to the photographs “which have rightly been compared” to Thomas’s work.

“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,” the statement says.

“Throughout her career, Mickalene has developed an internationally recognised visual language that is deeply rooted in photography but encompasses collage, painting, video, and immersive installation. Mickalene has earned the right to be recognised 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.”

Lehmann Maupin, coincidentally, is also one of several galleries that represents Teller’s work, but specifies that it has historically represented Juergen Teller’s fine art practice, which the gallery notes is different to his commercial and editorial work. “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.”

STEVE JXSEF, Mickalene Thomas, Vogue Paris and Teller’s UK-based representative Thu Nguyen did not respond immediately for comment. JOPLMBO has no additional comment.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, Digital