Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Ballad of Sexual Dependency"

Nan Goldin's photography pushes the envelope time and again, capturing images of life that are challenging and controversial; forcing people to voyeur into the disturbing and unsettling rather than feeding into the vapid glamour that tends to veil society and our notions of visual pleasure.   

Nan after being battered
Since the early seventies to present day, Goldin's photos reveal a a curiosity to the 'uglier' side of existence, focusing on the real life struggles of real life people. Her work aims to provoke thought and evoke discomfort. In the late seventies, Goldin moved to New York City where she found and harbored the majority of her inspiration and transcendence through photography. Goldin's photos gained most of their spark by capturing the downtown new wave scene; illuminating urban life in a somewhat bitter-sweet display of reality and retrospection.As Goldin once wrote, “real memory, which these pictures trigger, is an invocation of the color, smell, sound, and physical presence, the density and flavor of life”. She often incorporated herself into her photos, not only merely documenting the lives of others, but her own as well. It provides the audience with a certain familiarity and honesty not commonly seen as beautifully transformed. Dealing with topics such as violence, drug abuse, gender roles and tran-sexuality; Goldin pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a feminist artist.  

"It’s a big mistake to think that feminism is the same everywhere. It’s important to recognize how notions of womanhood and femininity are constructed in different societies by different people. I think it’s a mistake when people define themselves entirely as essentialists. But women are still very critical"-Linda Nochlin

Goldin's work reveals a "personal odyssey as well as a more universal understanding of the different languages men and women speak, and the struggle between autonomy and dependency". Sometimes seen as too extreme and indecent, her work was well revered in the past, throughout the seventies, eighties, and well into the nineties, as cutting edge, yet it was a huge struggle for her to be seen as an artist rather than a lady with a camera attempting to take radical jaw dropping photos. In 1996, The Wall Street Journal's Deborah Soloman did an article following up on Goldin's 1996 exhibit entitled "I'll Be your Mirror", that showcased on Madison Ave in New York City. Soloman wrote; [Goldin's work] is a "brazen come-on from a woman who is determined to reflect the contorted face of our times". She goes on to state; "The world according to Ms. Goldin is a raw, rank place populated by drug heads, drag queens and more or less ordinary lonely-hearts of a bisexual persuasion. It is a world where people spend a lot of time coupling in bed and invariably forget to change the sheets the next morning. Is Ms. Goldin just a naughty girl intent on embarrassing her presumably proper parents?" 

That article was published in 1996, and the showing of her work was highly controversial due to its strong 'in your face' subject matter. Not many people felt that her work constituted as art, and instead of considering the educational and social benefits one could obtain from observing her work, simply rode it off as porn. Even in the millennium, people are still not accepting. In 2007, one of Goldin's photographs that was being shown at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in great Britain, was seized by the police for being too obscene and exploitative in its subject matter, the photo was deemed pornographic and was essentially stripped away of all its artistic intentions (The Guardian). Because the photo depicts children, Goldin was also condemned as being a pedophile photographer--exploiting children's bodies. 
Klara and Edda Belly Dancing
(Photo that was Banned)
Despite this minor set back from the "culture police" present at the Baltic Centre, Goldin has come such a long way in terms of gaining recognition and having her photos show cased in respected exhibition, paving the way for many more female artists and photographers to follow. In 2010, Goldin had the privilege of exploring the Louvre during its office hours, photographing her explorations- which is a very rare thing. "
It’s a rarer one who can see her own life and art reflected in those palatial galleries, as Ms. Goldin clearly has" (The New York Times). Her exhibit, Scopophilia (literally meaning the love of looking), is composed of decades of photos juxtaposed with those shot within the Louvre manifested into a 25 minute slide show, creating a "haunting but uneven installation" (The New York Times). The exhibit showcased Goldin's life work/ almost diary-esque collection entitled "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" in a way that almost critical of societies notions of art. Her juxtaposition of photos from her life and experience along with paintings and sculptures located all throughout the museum suggests that the type of art she is exploring and delving into is not new. These paintings and sculptures from hundreds of years ago were all trying to do the same thing; illustrate the love we as humans have for looking; whether what we are looking at provokes happiness, sadness, discomfort, eroticism, or freight--we love to look and we will look.  
 The fact that Goldin was able to have her work exhibited in the Louvre is a huge accomplishment in and of itself, no matter how the show was revered. Women, although perhaps the most popular subject matter of art, represent only a small fraction of artists that are showcased in world renowned museums and galleries. It is no surprise that men dominate the art world as much as they do in television, print, journalism, film, etc., the list goes on and on. Within the past twenties years however, the numbers have been steadily rising regarding female artists being exhibited alongside men in museums. In 2008, for instance, the percentage of women in the Whitney Biennial has shot up drastically to forty percent compared to 2006's twenty-nine percent (Art News). Nancy Spector, The Guggenheim curator, suggests that
“there is no set law [regarding artists that are exhibited], but our curators are always thinking about the balance—not just men and women but color, race, and nationality" (Art News). Although the numbers do not necessarily meet the ideal standards of diversity among men, women, race, and orientation, the fact that they are growing is a feat in and of itself. Art is not meant to have boundaries, limits and rules, but when we place each artist into a little box labeled 'aesthetically pleasing' that only penetrates the surface of our consciousness, we lose sight of that. 

Work Cited:
  • Where the Great Women Artists Are Now by Barbara A. MacAdam,
  • Hoban, Phoebe. "The Feminist Evolution." ARTnews. N.p., 1 Dec. 09. Web. 16 Nov. 2013. <>.
  • Goldin-"The Ballad of Sexual Dependency." Aperture Foundation NY RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013. <>.
  • Soloman, Deborah. "Nan Goldin: Scenes From the Edge." The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 9 Oct. 1996. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. <>.
  • Rosenberg, Karen. "A Voyeur Makes Herself at Home in the Louvre." The International New York Times: Art & Design. The New York Times, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2013. <>.
  • Jones, Jonathan. "Goldin's Art Is Not Porn." The Guardian. The Guardian, 27 Sept. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2013. <>.

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