Terry Richardson’s forthcoming show at Galerie Perrotin in Paris is his first at the gallery since 1999. It is also the photographer’s first real public exposure since the accusations of sexual assault directed at Richardson–which go back at least a decade–culminated in 2014 when a number of models who worked with him in the past produced first-person accounts of on the job sexual harassment and exploitation. These accounts resulted in a spokesperson for Vogue saying, “We have no plans to work with him in the future” and a New York magazine cover story that questioned whether he was an “artist or predator.” (Richardson is far from blacklisted by the fashion industry: he just shot Paper Magazine’s Marilyn Manson cover, on newsstands now.)
In the press release for his Perrotin show, titled “The Sacred & The Profane,” Richardson pens an artist’s statement in which he goes on at length about America’s Puritanical past, even going so far as to reference Hester Prynne. He writes:
“From the hysterical fear of sexuality that led to the Salem Witch Trials, to Prohibition, to Blue Laws, to the Westboro Baptist Church, America, more than anywhere else, seems in many ways obsessed with sin. Even today, hardline religious groups use a similar strategy to their Puritan ancestors of exploiting impropriety to assert and fortify their own doctrines, for example, placing billboards near the sites of transgression- you can buy your pornography or pay for your lap dance, but not without the admonishment of a larger than life, silent Jesus watching over you.”
Whether or not this quasi-history lesson is a thinly veiled defense against the reams of negative press Richardson has accumulated since last year, this new show, according to the gallery, is a relatively toned down affair.
“Occasionally you notice someone in the pictures, naked,” said a gallery representative (the someone in question is the artist’s girlfriend). Other than that, the show consists mostly of landscapes taken by Richardson on a summer road trip originally intended to document music festivals and fairs.
In a phone interview, the rep clarified that the gallery is not representing Richardson and has no immediate plans to stage an exhibition with him at their Upper East Side outpost, although she said “you never know what might happen in the future.”
As for the show, which opens March 7, Richardson’s initial intent to photograph summertime fun got sidelined when he “became aware of a pervasive tension that simmered throughout the country between a mystical and religious omnipresence and the sex industry,” as he writes in the press release. He goes on to describe his interest in the “complicated relationship between desires and fears, beauty and vulgarity, the beauty of nature and also its ugliness, the hope that religion can offer and also the shame.”
Asked for comment about the controversy surrounding Richardson, the rep said, “We’ve been supporting Terry’s work for a long time, so this is really about his work and not his personal life.”