Jessica Craig-Martin

Standard Excess


“One is never so naked as when dressed for a party“, artist Jessica Craig-Martin notes in an interview. It is a statement immediately reflected in her subjects. Craig-Martin’s works depict scenes from social events – cocktail parties, charity fundraisers, and glamorous galas at the Cannes Film Festival or the Venice Biennale. Her precise and detailed photographs show extravagantly attired guests enjoying exuberant parties. In contrast with photographs published in glossy magazines, however, Craig-Martin does not show flawless beauty but reveals snippets of the reality that lurks beneath the glamour. She has an eye for the grotesque, toying with aspects of fashion, taste and wealth.


In her role as a press photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, among other publications, Craig-Martin has been able to photograph otherwise inaccessible scenes. Her photographs reveal unsuspected vulnerabilities. Air Kiss, for example, captures the awkward grimace women habitually make to avoid lipstick smudges. In Arrival Lipstick the camera zooms in extreme definition on the red lipstick that an ageing beauty has applied outside her lip-line.


However, she is “not interested in individuals… My camera wants to eradicate the personal. I see my works as abstract studies of sequins, evicted mollusks and air-conditioned mink. Vanity, excess, vulnerability, arcane social ritual. Failed armour. Glamour is a mirage. As you approach, it evaporates.” Craig-Martin plays with our voyeuristic habits, and with the world of VIPs; she shows us the ungilded side of a luxurious lifestyle, and its social dictates of vanity. There are elements of still-life in Craig-Martin’s photography, for example in the finger food exquisitely presented in Catered Caviar; All Your Dreams Will Come True, and Private Party. Akin to the flamboyant opulence of early 19th-century still-lifes, her compositions aim to display symbols of extreme wealth and conspicuous consumption – the jewellery; the Christian Louboutin Mondrian platform sandals; the pug with its tea-cup collar; the spectacular chandelier; or the Champagne glasses lined up in a row in Another Bellini?. Craig-Martin’s photographs hold up a mirror to the viewer that reflects our own consumer society.

Her titles, allusive and ambiguous, contain an element of humour. In Safe Champagne, for example, it is the title that transforms the white glove on the waiter’s hand that holds the glass into an act of hygienic precaution. Finally, Craig-Martin’s large-scale works show a considerable degree of abstraction. In Cougar Friends, Party Animals, Midnight at the Oasis, and Air Kiss, materials and patterns, including flesh, are transformed into colour fields.


Jessica Craig-Martin was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1963. She was raised in London and New York by artist parents, surrounded by art and the art worlds of both cities. She moved into a career in fashion editorial, working for British Vogue and The Sunday Telegraph in London, and then as Associate Features Editor in New York. She later studied anthropology at New York University, connecting her extensive travels to her studies. In the pursuit of camera skills for a planned book about Asia, she found subject matter much closer to home that gripped her and has held her interest ever since: excess and luxury in all its forms. Her work was noted by Anna Wintour, who hired her to photograph the night life of New York. The access this provided was her key to the world of glamour as it is presented for the world’s consumption, and to a behind-the-scenes look at the façade. Her ensuing success has given Craig-Martin the opportunity to work and exhibit worldwide.


Craig-Martin’s solo shows include PS1 MoMA, New York (2001);  Dorothée de Pauw Gallery, Brussels (2001); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain (2002); Greenberg van Doren Fine Art, New York (2007); and Galerie 64bis, Paris (2009). Craig-Martin’s works also feature in collections such as the New Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Saatchi Collection, London. Jessica Craig-Martin lives and works in New York City.



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