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7 Feb

Nan Goldin is so busy immediately

Alongside the discharge of Oscar-nominated doc All The Beauty and the Bloodshed, the artist can be the main focus of two major exhibitions, a latest publication, and a prestigious award

Since picking up a camera on the age of 15, within the early Nineteen Seventies, Nan Goldin has grappled with the query of if, and, how photography can save a life. She’d run away from her home in suburban Boston following the death of her sister by suicide, and the medium provided her with a lifeline, a voice, “an entrée into human contact”.

Finding family among the many drag queens and transgender community who graced Boston’s gay bar, The Other Side, within the mid-to-late Nineteen Seventies, Goldin photographed her latest friends and lovers obsessively. As she explained within the 1995 documentary, I’ll Be Your Mirror, it was a way of “never losing the memory of anyone again.”

After moving to Recent York in 1978, she continued her unflinching documentation of all of the crevices of existence in her subcultural scene. She captured love and heartache, desire and destruction, the hedonistic highs and abject lows of drug consumption, and the extremes of life on the margins.

Yet, as AIDS began to assert the lives of her chosen family within the Nineteen Eighties, she questioned the immortal powers of image-making: “I used to think I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough,” she said in I’ll Be Your Mirror. “I confronted the fact as I watched various my friends die… It was then I realised how little photography could preserve.”

Even so, photography has remained a way for Goldin to “make bearable the things that felt unbearable” and to maintain her family members present. Spanning greater than five a long time, her images are a reminder of how much this prolific artist has lost, but additionally of how much she’s lived.

Goldin’s current exhibition on the Akademie der Künste in Berlin attests to this. Spotlit against plain black partitions and devoid of accompanying text – very similar to the slideshow movies Goldin composed, set to music, and presented in bars, nightclubs, and art spaces throughout her profession – the photographs appear to crackle and thrum with life within the intimate gallery space.

The exhibition coincides with Goldin’s acceptance of the AdK’s 2022 Käthe Kollwitz Prize. “Since its inception in 1960, the prize has been awarded to artists who hold a central position in contemporary art,” explains curator Anke Hervol over email. “Goldin has broken taboos, transcended boundaries, and advocated for the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. The immediacy of her images stems from the way in which she physically and emotionally belongs to the world she is capturing.”

The non-chronological sequence begins with recent portraits of her beloved friend and roommate, transgender author Thora Siemsen, taken within the stillness of Goldin’s Brooklyn apartment during lockdown. These are the newest from her series The Other Side, and are placed alongside early black-and-white photographs of the drag community in Boston: a roommate applying makeup, a posse of friends stepping out into the night, a unadorned queen dancing in a swirl of feather boas. 

Images of queer communities within the Nineties and 2000s follow… taxi rides, drag shows, and backstage rituals across Bangkok, Berlin, Manila and Recent York. During a conversation with Siemsen in 2021, Goldin recalled: “After I meet someone and I don’t feel like they understand how beautiful they’re, and so they haven’t really fit into their body in a certain way, I want to indicate them that. I need to indicate people how beautiful they’re.” 

And, after all, there are works from her most indelible series, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency; a slideshow originally conceived in 1983, which she’s continued to edit and rework ever since. On this epic work, there may be pleasure in abundance: within the bodies that envelop on the recent sand of Recent York’s Fire Island; within the lovers that embrace in a tangle of skin and sheets. There’s also pain: within the self-portrait of Goldin curled up in bed, gazing at her abusive lover, Brian; within the hole face of actress and Lower East Side socialite Cookie Mueller, standing beside the casket of her husband, Vittorio Scarpati, in 1989. Mueller would also die of an AIDS-related illness, a mere two months after him.

Known primarily for her portrayal of individuals, Goldin’s haunting large-scale works of natural landscapes and wide open skies also hang heavy. Painterly yet out of focus, they’re drawn from Memory Lost, a slideshow series composed in 2019 concerning the disorientation of drug withdrawal. A blurry full moon captured through the trees of Paris’s Bois de Vincennes seems to shiver with emotional intensity.

The Käthe Kollwitz Prize is only one major mark of recognition for Goldin of late. All of the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), Laura Poitras’ documentary concerning the artist’s years-long campaign to carry members of the Sackler family and their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, accountable for the opioid epidemic, has just been nominated for an Oscar. The non-public has all the time been political for Goldin, and the documentary further spotlights her role as artist and activist.

Along with the AdK’s exhibition, Goldin’s major profession retrospective, This Will Not End Well, is currently on display on the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and set to travel to Amsterdam, Berlin and Milan. It’s accompanied by the discharge of a photobook of the identical name by Steidl, “the primary comprehensive presentation of Goldin as a multimedia artist”. Focusing exclusively on her slideshows and video installations, the retrospective goals to embrace her vision of how her work needs to be experienced, and accommodates 20 poignant texts penned by her friends and subjects.

Goldin’s enduring appeal rests within the life-affirming quality of her work. Because the Nineteen Seventies, her images have provided solace and salvation to those that see their very own struggles and stories reflected back at them – and so they appear to burn even brighter because the years roll on.

Käthe Kollwitz Prize 2022. Nan Goldin at Akademie der Künste on Hanseatenweg, Berlin runs through March 19 2023. The award ceremony takes place on the Akademie on March 3, with the artist in attendance. 

Nan Goldin: This Will Not End Well is published by Steidl and Moderna Museet, and available to order now.

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