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Did Juergen Teller’s Rihanna Vogue Shoot Really Plagiarize Artist Mickalene Thomas?

The fashion photographer has been accused on Twitter of ripping off another artist – with both represented by the same gallery

Cover of Vogue Paris, December 2017/January 2018. Courtesy: Vogue Paris

Cover of Vogue Paris, December 2017/January 2018. Courtesy: Vogue Paris

Cover of Vogue Paris, December 2017/January 2018. Courtesy: Vogue Paris

A series of photographs of pop star Rihanna by Juergen Teller, shot for Vogue Paris’s December 2017/January 2018 issue, has reemerged on social media this week. Several people are accusing the celebrated fashion photographer of appropriating the aesthetic of artist Mickalene Thomas without credit.

The original magazine shoot sees Rihanna posing against a variety of colourful, bold backgrounds – 1970s fabrics, animal prints, lush natural scenes – often drawing on collaging techniques. Vogue Paris called it a celebration of ‘the style and charisma of a modern-day icon’.

Eight months later, critics on social media have alleged that Teller’s photoshoot must have consciously drawn on Thomas’s similar artworks which also feature black women in bright, mixed-and-matched interior settings, produced through collaging.

Mickalene Thomas, A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007. Courtesy: the artist and Lehmann Maupin gallery

 Mickalene Thomas, A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007. Courtesy: the artist and Lehmann Maupin gallery

 Mickalene Thomas, A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007. Courtesy: the artist and Lehmann Maupin gallery

A post by Twitter account @SteveJxseph comparing the two artists has received thousands of retweets and likes. ‘I just wanna point out that this is very similar to mickalene thomas’ work and juergen NEEDS to explain what’s going on,’ the user tweeted.

The controversy leaves Lehmann Maupin gallery, who happen to represent both artists, in a difficult spot. The gallery’s official statement seems to come down on the side of Thomas, saying that the Vogue Paris shoot has ‘rightly been compared’ to the artist’s collages. ‘As Mickalene’s long-time gallery and advocate, we vigorously stand by her in defending the originality of her work.’

The gallery clarified that they represent Teller’s fine art practice – not his editorial photography work. Lehmann Maupin say they hope for a resolution between the artists. A representative for Teller told frieze that they had no comment at the time of reporting.

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