New York

Jessica Craig-Martin and Lucas Michael

Boesky & Callery

Though Jessica Craig-Martin and Lucas Michael were billed as a team, there wasn’t much evidence of collaboration in this recent show of their photography. “Each artist claims authorship to their [sic] respective series,” the press release noted, and Craig-Martin’s thirty-five medium-format prints from New York’s nightlife circuit, covering three gallery walls, were neatly set off from Michael’s nineteen photos (closer to the domestic front in subject matter), which occupied the other two walls. While this allowed for convenient comparisons between the public and the private realms, it made the artists’ relationship seem, if anything, more complementary than collaborative.

The pair does share a snapshot aesthetic, which also bears a more-than-casual resemblance to the photographs of Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans. Craig-Martin makes the party rounds like a paparazzo among the nonfamous, capturing her scenemaker subjects at their most awkward or their most self-indulgently narcissistic. In one grouping, a blonde gulping down a large bite of dessert is caught in midblink, her eyes unattractively narrowed to slits. An adjacent photograph shows another party girl who has seemingly passed out sitting up, her mouth drooped into a drunken pout.

While not exactly mainstream—this is New York, after all—these party-goers are less countercultural than Goldin’s demimonde or Tillmans’ club kids; a couple of lesbians making out and a bunch of clearly underage girls at a club are about as wild as things get. Most of her subjects seem happy enough to be immortalized, although that eagerness is at times obviously fueled by alcohol. There are a few guys doing naughty things: copping feels, or looking to do so. One red-faced old sot even grabs at the ass of a nude figure in a painting, smiling as if seeking assurance that his gesture is humorous. Not that the women don’t also play to the camera. In one shot a young man looks with mild curiosity (or bewilderment) at an elegant woman, shot from a low angle, baring her midriff as well as a magnificent set of chops. So much fun, so many smiles. I’ve read somewhere that exposing one’s teeth is, for most creatures, a clear signal of aggression, and how its ubiquity in America betrays a rather psychopathic streak. One photo has two blonde cocktailers flanking a businessmen, all of them wearing such mad grins that the line between revelry and asocial hostility starts to look pretty fine.

Craig-Martin’s juxtapositions of photos—whether ironic compare-and-contrast paintings or like-with-like groupings—lack the narrative element that makes so much of Goldin’s work compelling; the cumulative effect of these one-shots is a breezy, sometimes sad, but not especially revealing commentary on human folly. Michael’s photographs, by contrast, are far less flashy. For the most part, he counters Craig-Martin’s drama with an eye for patterns and composition, positioning, for instance, an assortment of hanging meats and sausages directly below the golden cylinders of a ’60s-moderne chandelier. In another photo, an embracing couple, presumably at a wedding, is engulfed by a wallpaper pattern shot through with foil accents; sitting on a table is a single lit candle, and opposite it, an older woman stares placidly into the camera, her lips pursed. Though not much more meaningful than Craig-Martin’s series of photos, these particular shots were at least far more interesting than the ones Michael took in bathrooms—which, if I had my way, would he banned as a photographic setting for the next decade.

Julie Caniglia