With the Museum of Modern Art in New York having recently put on view Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency—a slide show of photographs of herself, her friends, and her lover that she began presenting in the mid-1980s, with the AIDS crisis looming—here are two excerpts from the ARTnews archives about Goldin. Below is a 1993 look at Goldin as an up-and-coming artist, and, from 2006, Barbara Pollack’s review of a Goldin show at Matthew Marks.
“Fast Forward: Nan Goldin”
By Mary Haus
Nan Goldin is best known for her fairylike chronicle, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which was first produced in 1985 and took the form of a book, an exhibition, and a slide show. With its frank portraits of herself, friends, and lovers, in New York’s East Village and elsewhere, it is an intimate record of lives on the edge, of the battlings and couplings that made up the often desperate emotional and sexual relationships of those around her, and of her own. Now many of the people in these pictures have died and Goldin has quit drugs. “Since then there’s been a kind of fissure in my life between before and after,” says the 40-year-old artist. “In a way, the work helps me remember.”
“I’ve been trying to find a way to deal with my friends dying. Not much else is really important anymore. I’m only interested in the moment, in life and death, friends having children and friends dying. Things are going into existential overload.”
“Nan Goldin: Matthew Marks”
By Barbara Pollack
The centerpiece of Goldin’s show was a 40-minute, three-screen multimedia projection, Sisters, Saints & Sibyls (2004), which equates the story of her sister’s suicide and her own history of drug dependency with the martyrdom of Saint Barbara. Family snapshots are coupled with the artist’s solemn voice-over, one of many clichés relied on in this project. As the projection shifts to more recent pictures—images of Goldin’s suburban childhood, the railroad tracks where her sister died, or the artist at a rehab clinic—the work turns maudlin and sentimental, relying on the goodwill of sympathetic viewers.
Goldin’s strength has always been self-portraits, and the ones on view here were the most psychologically revealing and emotionally searing pictures in the sow. It is impossible to look at an image like the one of the now middle-aged photographer with self-inflicted cigarette burns on her arm and not wonder why such a talented, original woman is so consumed with the myth of the self-destructive artist. Goldin continues to court pity and condescension, rather than appreciating that the best of her photographs have already won her our respect and admiration.