|Volume 2 Issue 45||December 20 to January 3, 2012|
Published by Safe-T-Gallery Inc.
Don Burmeister: Owner/Editor
Barbara Confino: Associate Editor
It’s really unfair to blame Nan Goldin. Yes, there was the reign of ‘heroin chic’ in 1990’s fashion advertising, and all those thousands of MFA photography portfolios featuring unmade beds, and even Ryan McGinley. But, Goldin was just there first.
When ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” emerged as an evolving collection of color slides in the late 1970’s documentarians were rare among the artistic and druggy circles in which she travelled. (Larry Clark's earlier, brilliant Tulsa was populated by an entirely different crowd.) Aided by newly emerging fast, high saturation color films and intelligent camera flash systems, Goldin was able to make photographs in places few had tried before. Doggedly following friends and acquaintances, she reached into some of the most personal areas of their lives. Nor did she exclude herself from the tableau vanity was so all-pervasive as to be invisible. But the images she created had a vibrancy and life that could not be ignored.
Goldin, using the somewhat anachronistic medium of the slide show, was able to put together her portraits and scenes into a convincing and moving evocation of her world at that critical moment –– a time when the AIDS epidemic was coming to it’s deadly peak.
Flash forward 30 years. Goldin, who lives part of the year in Paris and is a member of the French Legion of Honor, has been invited by the Louvre to explore and photograph their collections in a sort of collaborative project. It is no surprise where Goldin headed straight for the most romantic images and statuary of the 18th and 19th centuries. Aphrodite, Narcissus, Cleopatra, Cupid, St. Sebastion, young princes and duchesses–– haven’t we seen these characters before? The resulting mash-up of images from the Louvre and 30 years of photographs by Goldin is a new 25 minute slide show called Scopophilia, or love of looking.
Hubris you say? Like the vanity of her sitters, it’s so pervasive as to be invisible. Yet, interestingly enough, by juxtaposing her own imagery with that of past centuries Goldin succeeds in clarifying her work. We can step back a bit to see the archetypes and tropes that have been key to her imagery, and perhaps to her success, and which are often lacking in so much contemporary personal documentary.
We begin to see that indeed the slide shows, with their veneer of documentation, are in fact fantasy worlds, complete unto themselves. Hers are the themes of the late Romantics: sexual excess, drugs, pain, cursed youth, decay, and death––themes taken up and extended by the Surrealists in the mid 20th century before being passed on to Goldin in the last decades of the century. As such her work is as much an evocation of romantic myths, as statements about life in our time.
So how’s are thing in Scopophilia? Well, it’s a bit older. We see Goldin once or twice, looking fine for a woman of her age. And some of the men seem to be getting older as well. But overall it’s really a world of young women, mostly in their twenties, still sitting or sprawling on unmade beds in the afternoon, still ready to take a bath for the photographer, still ready to pose evocatively for an artist’s sketch. There are of course trim young men as well. Both seem to be better off here than in the Ballad; though they may have their worries, there is probably a trust fund somewhere to fall back on.
The images, especially as programmed in the slide show, are glorious. They flow seamlessly from painting to sculpture to photography, each intelligently informing the next. Goldin is a master of the form, no image is left on the screen for too long, nor flashed like a provocative TV ad. They remain still images, retaining their photographic veracity on the screen. The score, written for the show by Alain Mahé, is appropriately romantic (although played too loudly in the gallery.)
Arranged into sets, the images are often centered on a particular model, or on short themes, such as hermaphroditism. But the recurring note is one of pleasure – the pleasures of rich, atmospheric color, the pleasures of the human form, the pleasures of a languorous narrative, and of course the pleasures of looking. Scopophilia, indeed.