Trophy Lives: On the Celebrity as an Art Object

Philippa Snow



Ebook available on Apple Books and Kindle Store.

We know that celebrities can make great muses: think of the work of Richard Phillips, who has painted an entire series of works inspired by Lindsay Lohan, Robert Pattinson, and Miley Cyrus, or of Urs Fischer, who recently showed a life-sized candle in the shape of Leonardo DiCaprio. Notoriously, the art collector Peter Brant commissioned the wickedly satirical Italian American artist Maurizio Cattelan to make a sculpture of his wife, the supermodel Stephanie Seymour. The work was technically called Stephanie, but became known in the industry as ‘Trophy Wife’. With the sculpture valued at 1.5 million dollars, while Seymour herself is purportedly worth one hundred million dollars, you might be tempted to wonder which has the claim to be the ‘better’ work of art.

In this illustrated essay, critic Philippa Snow asks whether all great, or iconic, celebrities can be considered technically self-authored artworks in and of themselves. Drawing on a wide range of cultural references from the past two decades, she proposes that increasingly – as celebrities’ private lives become more visible and thus more art-directed – celebrity itself can be a medium for contemporary art, a form of mythmaking and image-making that is every bit as complex, conceptual, and compelling as the work of a traditional artist.

DISCOURSE is a series of small books in which a theorist, artist, or writer engages in a dialogue with a theme, an artwork, an idea, or another individual across an extended text. Explore the full series here.

Paperback with flap
12.5 x 19.5cm, 104 pages

ISBN 978-1-915743-12-1
March 2024
€17 £14 $18

An art critic to rival the greatest: a monumental wit with a talent for detecting the libidinal forces that shape our world.Nathalie Olah

‘Trophy Lives is a brilliant disquisition on celebrity, beauty, and perception… Snow solidifies her place as an essential cultural critic.Lauren Elkin

An unpredictable, in-depth analysis of the convergences of contemporary art and celebrity in its various permutations, written in moreish, richly intertextual prose. An electric book.Sophie Collins

‘Reviving the concerns of the archetypal art critic – think Leo Tolstoy and Walter Benjamin on the nature of beauty, truth, time, perception, death – [Snow] knits together high-brow and low-brow with unrivalled ease.’ AnOther

‘[The] genius of a writer such as Snow is that she’s capable not only of delineating these issues, but of rendering them exciting to read about.’ The Telegraph 

‘Snow presents thrilling arguments on the role we play as an audience in the construction of celebrities and the influence that has on their artistic creation of self.’ DAZED 

Excerpted in The Paris Review

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