Exhibition Guide
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Nan Goldin, Memory Lost, 2019-2021 Installationsbild från Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

Nan Goldin

This Will Not End Well

29.10 2022 – 26.02 2023

Essay by curator Fredrik Liew

Nan Goldin (born in Washington, D.C., in 1953) has always wanted to be a filmmaker and contends that her slideshows are films made from stills. This ret­rospective exhibition is the first to take a holistic approach to Goldin’s multimedia work. In a close collaboration between Goldin and architect Hala Wardé, it has been designed as a “village” of slide­shows in which each building is a unique structure made in relation to the form and content of each piece.

Hope and despair, sadness and joy, and private and political struggle coexist in this village. The ambigu­ity is reflected in the exhibition title, This Will Not End Well, echoing fear and foreboding, but whose dark tone also contains ironic humor and warmth, Goldin’s characteristic joie de vivre.

There are six major installations in the exhibition cov­ering fifty years of work. Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls (2004–22), a more recent work, transports viewers to Nan Goldin’s childhood. The piece is based on the life of her older sister, Barbara Goldin, a highly sensitive person who rebelled against the strict conformity of American suburbia in the 1960s. A profound lack of un­derstanding and tolerance led to Barbara’s death by su­icide at the age of eighteen. Nan was eleven at the time.The narrative takes shape through family photographs, documents, filmed recordings, and a monotone voice­over. With medieval choral music and religious motifs from art history, Goldin ties the story of her sister to the legend of Saint Barbara, a maiden who was locked away by her pagan father to protect her from the gaz­es of men. Saint Barbara was ultimately beheaded by her own father for defying the patriarchal order and asserting her Christian faith.

Goldin recounts her close relationship with her sister and the forces that drove her to take her own life, including how Barbara’s fate was shaped by a toxic family who feared the sexuality and anger of a girl-child. Goldin also tells the story of her own in­stitutionalization and self-harm in direct relation­ship to her sister’s history. As in all her work, Goldin fights against stigma, in this case the stigma of de­pression and suicide.

Themes of a life beyond norms and of the search for a new kind of relationships are central to Goldin’sartistic practice and can be understood in part through this coming-of-age tale.

Nan Goldin, The Hug, New York City (1980). Ur diabildspelet The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1981–2022 © Nan Goldin

Friends and Slides

At the age of fifteen Goldin moved into a commune and attended Satya Community School in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Satya applied an alternative educa­tional philosophy based on a school in England called Summerhill, whose unconventional methods gave students the freedom to decide whether or not to at­tend lessons and an equal vote on school matters. As classes were not compulsory, Goldin and her friends went to the cinema almost every day. This made a big impression on Goldin’s early creativity, and it was then that she realized she wanted to be a filmmaker. When teachers from Massachusetts Institute of Tech­nology, MIT, were able to secure a donation of Polar­oids for the school, Goldin found her voice through photography. The people she first photographed were those with whom she developed lifelong friendships.

After Satya, Goldin moved in with a group of her friends who were drag queens in Boston in the ear­ly 1970s. Her photographs from that period were her first body of work and paid homage to the beauty of her friends and the life they lived together, centering around a bar called The Other Side. During this time, she decided to push her work further by going to art school, where she had her first encounter with the his­tory of photography.

While at art school she had no access to a darkroom to develop and print images, so she began working with slides to present her work. This soon developed into a practice of making slideshows. The photo­graphs from the years with the queens in Boston were later made into a book and a slideshow work called The Other Side (1992–2021).

Goldin moved to New York in 1978 and began working on what was to be her first major slideshow: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1981–2022). The Ballad consists of images from Goldin’s various lives and relationships over many years, telling stories of love, intimacy, connection, beauty, pain, and loss. It essentially depicts her nonbiological family as it evolved from Satya forward.

The Ballad tells of the struggle between autono­my and dependency in relationships. It is edited into chapters that range from gender identity, violence against women, parties, and gossip, to children, pros­titution, and sexual relationships both violent and tender. It has become a landmark in art history, and it is hard to relate to the fact that in the 1970s and ear­ly 1980s Goldin was repeatedly told that there was no such thing as a good woman artist.

The Ballad is dedicated to the many people lost to the AIDS crisis that decimated Goldin’s community. In the late 1980s Goldin turned her losses into activ­ism, and she curated the first major show in New York about AIDS, which turned into a national controversy.

Goldin’s love of slideshows is based on the medium’s conduciveness to constant reediting and updating to reflect her changing view of the world. She has never shown the same version of The Ballad twice, as it con­tinues to evolve.

The Ballad remained the focus of Goldin’s prac­tice—and the only slideshow—until the early 1990s, when she began working on other narratives. The new works include the abovementioned works The Other Side and Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls, as well as Fire Leap (2010–22), a portrayal of children and all their complexities.

The slideshows that she developed over the coming decades included both new images and photographs that were part of The Ballad, featuring them in differ­ent contexts. Goldin’s reuse of the same photographs in different works unleashes the potential of the in­dividual image by suspending its singularity. While framed photographs invite closer inspection, in the slideshows the images are driven by a soundtrack, a narrative, and a rhythm, with each picture being pro­jected for only a few seconds. The individual motifs are presented without titles, dates, geographical ref­erences, and other information. Such hallmarks that are usually associated with the photographic image are abandoned for a larger whole.

Personal and Political

In 2019 Goldin created a new major work, Memory Lost, that tells of the dark side of drug addiction. By immersing the viewer in the experience of withdraw­al through the use of blurred images, claustrophobic rooms, and dark landscapes, it evokes a strong sense of anxiety and entrapment.

For the first time Goldin invited composers to write a score. The music ranges from an emotional­ly charged piece commissioned from composer and instrumentalist Mica Levi to the operatic voices of Soundwalk Collective and the pure cacophony of CJ Calderwood. The soundtrack also includes archival recordings from telephone answering machines and interviews with friends who experienced drug addic­tion. Signs of desperation, loss, and abandonment tes­tify to individual life as a collective experience.

While working on Memory Lost, Goldin created the companion piece Sirens (2019–20), which shows the pleasure and sensuality that drugs can induce. Sirens echoes the enchanting call of the Sirens from Greek mythology who lured sailors to their untimely deaths on rocky shores. It is the first work that Goldincreated entirely using found footage. Playfully com­posed of scenes taken from films by directors such as Kenneth Anger, Lynne Ramsay, and Henri-GeorgesClouzot. A central feature of Sirens is a seductive whis­tle composed by Mica Levi that draws the audience into the work.

The meaning of sound is crucial in all of Goldin’s slideshows. The music she has chosen for The Ballad of Sexual Dependency adds subtext and contextual links to the point where it is inseparable from the im­ages. The choir and Goldin’s voice in Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls convey and reinforce the work’s heart­breaking subject matter. The interviews and phone recordings in Memory Lost take us directly into the painful experience, and the soundtrack of Fire Leap is entirely composed of children’s voices singing songs such as “Desperado” and “Space Oddity.”

As this exhibition reflects, Nan Goldin’s work has al­ways been personal and political. Her experience of the AIDS crisis prompted Goldin to form the group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) in 2017, focusing on a contemporary epidemic: the overdose crisis. Since the late 1990s, the consumption of prescription opioids has skyrocketed due to aggres­sive and unethical marketing. These drugs, which are highly addictive and extremely risky in the event of an overdose, generate vast profits for large pharmaceu­tical companies that turn a blind eye to the addiction and deaths they cause. The numbers of the overdose crisis continue to rise, with over one thousand people dying in 2021.

P.A.I.N.’s mission is to compel museums to ac­knowledge their relationship to dark money, particu­larly from the Sackler dynasty, which owns a large pharmaceutical company and has given huge dona­tions to cultural institutions. In 2019, after a number of successful campaigns and significant media attention, the art world began responding to the group’s calls by turning down donations from the Sacklers and re­moving the donor’s name from museum walls. Goldin was also involved in a spinoff group called OxyJustice that followed the Sacklers into bankruptcy court, re­sulting in a settlement of six billion dollars from the Sackler’s massive fortune.

Goldin continues to fight against the stigma at­tached to using drugs. P.A.I.N. is currently focused on supporting various organizations engaged in harm reduction to keep drug users alive.

The history of photography has a long tradition of claims to objectivity and truth. Nan Goldin, however, differs from most photographers and filmmakers in her approach. Instead of being a spectator, she works from within her direct experience. Life, community, and the collective determine her work. Using multi­faceted techniques such as slideshows, films, books, curation, and activism, Goldin tells stories that are not always told or heard. Her output depends on the human need to share and affirm others. Goldin’s work reflects her rare ability to remain curious, listen, and participate—over fifty years on from when she first began inserting slides into her Kodak carousel on the Lower East Side of New York.

Nan Goldin, My Horse Roma, Valley of the Queens, Luxor, Egypt (2003). Ur det digitala bildspelet Memory Lost, 2019–2021 © Nan Goldin
Nan Goldin, Sunset like Hair, Sète, France (2003). Ur det digitala bildspelet Memory Lost, 2019–2021 © Nan Goldin