Did the German photographer Juergen Teller rip off artist Mickalene Thomas? The question has put New York gallery Lehmann Maupin, which represents both artists, in a very awkward situation.
In December, Teller was one of three photographers tasked with shooting pop star Rihanna for the pages of , which issued three separate covers and editorial spreads that “celebrate the style and charisma of a modern-day icon.”
Teller decked out his set in 1970s-style fabrics, among which Rihanna lays in repose, dressed in bold prints and dramatic accessories. She looks sexy and powerful, a black woman calmly surveying her domain. These are also characteristics of figures frequently depicted by Thomas, who draws heavily on brightly patterned design, fashion, and domestic settings. Both artists also use collage in their work; in Teller’s case by tearing out images of Rihanna and rephotographing them.
The Teller images flew under the radar until Sunday, when they were shared by Twitter user @SteveJxseph in a post that now has more than 2,000 retweets and nearly 6,000 likes. “Umm is he not totally ripping off Mickalene Thomas? It’s a little too close,” commented music producer @JoPlmbo.
Since the artists share a gallery, “There’s no way [Teller] can say he doesn’t know the work,” arts writer Antwaun Sargent chimed in on Twitter, calling Teller’s work a “bad copy” of Thomas’s.
Lehmann Maupin sent out an email on Tuesday morning “in support of Mickalene Thomas” and noting that the Teller images “have rightly been compared” to her 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. 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.
In a second email, Lehmann Maupin made a distinction between Teller’s fine art practice and his commercial and editorial work, noting that the gallery only represents him in the former capacity. “As such, we were not consulted or involved in his work for Vogue Paris,” the email said. The gallery is “hopeful that there will be a resolution between these two artists.”
According to the gallery, Teller is not prepared to make a statement at this time. Thomas did not respond to artnet News’s request for comment, nor did or representatives for Rihanna.
See more images from the controversial photo shoot below.
Juergen Teller photograph of Rihanna for . Photo courtesy of .