Since the 1970s, Nan Goldin has photographed people, representing the underrepresented and highlighting themes of sexuality, gender, desire and difference. Turning her camera on friends and family, generally making do with ambient light and often presenting her work in a slide-show format, Goldin has commanded the attention of her audiences by conveying the rawness of her subjects and scenes. Continuing this commitment, her latest exhibition, “Scopophilia,” focused specifically on the act of looking and on the details of the human form. Consisting of over 400 photographs, the exhibition grouped autobiographical images from throughout Goldin’s career with her photographs of painting and sculpture from the Louvre, presenting them in grids, pairs and other combinations. She was given unlimited access to the Louvre’s permanent collection during off hours for a 2010 commission, resulting in the video slide show, Scopophilia, which was shown at Marks in a viewing room and featured many of the photos in the main space.
Most of Goldin’s photographic subjects, both people and painted and sculpted figures, confront the viewer directly, so the looking feels like an exchange. The few that do not are displayed in ways that encourage our visual consumption. At times, the experience is satisfying. In other instances, it is not as delectable as one would expect given Goldin’s sumptuous content. The endless configure tions of beautiful bodies feel a bit redundant after multiple viewings of the salon-style presentation.
The exhibition seemed less about “taking a picture of a sculpture or painting in an attempt to bring it to life,” as Goldin has stated, than about her history of image-making and the juxtapositions of the real bodies of people she knows and painted or sculpted forms. The Louvre works, which have lived through centuries of history, do not really “come to life” as much as become comparative elements, which are sometimes poetic and intriguing and at other times disjointed. For example, the intense desperation conveyed in Goldin’s Swan-like embrace, Paris (2010) nicely pairs two intertwined couples, one a detail of a painting and the other a man and a woman from Goldin’s circle. However, in Water (2011)—a grid of figures immersed in oceans, waterfalls or showers—the relationship between the real and the depicted feels somewhat forced. The potency of Goldin’s portraits can seem diluted by the Louvre masterpieces. But what steals the show is the artist’s sensitive treatment of light and the way she allows it to illuminate subtle details; her ability to call special attention to a simple pose, a slight gesture or a glance is striking.
The most successful and enticing aspect of the exhibition was the slide show. The selection of Goldin’s signature pictures and the Louvre images was vast and well-timed. Punctuated by French composer Alain Mahé’s soundtrack, the slide show transported us to the marble halls of the Louvre, allowing the artist to share her own experience with her viewers.
Photo: Nan Goldin: Swan-like embrace, Paris, 2010, chromogenic print, 30 by 40 inches; at Matthew Marks.