The Berlin institution has awarded the 2022 Käthe-Kollwitz Award to the American photographer for her central position in contemporary photography and is devoting a retrospective to her retracing five decades of suspended life.
Nan Goldin’s haunting photographs have never ceased to challenge prejudice against marginalized communities. By capturing the American counterculture, Goldin has played a crucial role in deconstructing gender stereotypes and bringing visibility to people with AIDS. Even before she knew it herself, Goldin was already a committed artist, one of the greatest of her time.
As early as the 1970s, Nan Goldin recounts a padlocked microcosm – her own, impregnated by sex and drugs and with death as a collateral consequence. From Boston to Bangkok via Berlin, Goldin makes her friends and loved ones the great protagonists of her work. By photographing the family that she chose for herself, the majority of which have now disappeared, Goldin has made immortal a whole youth decimated by artifice. Years imbued with love and violence, happiness and decay in which Nan Goldin immerses us without distance, through a tender gaze tinged with humor.
Actress of her own work
For fifty years, Nan Goldin’s photographs have intertwined and tirelessly confronted her life. This promiscuity that binds her to her subjects makes the apprehension of her shots unique, oscillating relentlessly between dream and reality. In the dark room of the Academy of Arts, the private scenes parade like slides projected on the walls. Their pictorial force is increased tenfold. Moments of ecstasy come from his dense and grating photographic diary The Ballad of Sexual Dependency made between 1979 and 1986 in which Goldin exposes the joys and sufferings of her intimate life. The personal story of an exacerbated sexuality and an unreasonable drug consumption whose many self-portraits reveal, according to her moods, different facets of herself. An eccentric make-up, her face disfigured or like here, in the blue bathroom where she appears impassive in the angle of the mirror [Selfportrait in blue bathroom, London, 1980]; there is always in Goldin this something both beautiful and tragic, like this setting that fixes forever a deep solitude.
The 90s marked a technical shift at Goldin. Far from artifice, she swaps, among other things, the artificial lighting characteristic of her work for natural light. Her universe has changed and that may be what saved her. Among her recent works presented, some landscapes as well as shots of author Thora Simpson taken in 2020 and 2021 in the photographer’s New York apartment. Naked, stretched out on the bed or with her back facing a mirror, the ivory skin of her friend Thora balances the darkness irremediably. If the intimate warmth of yesteryear seems to have faded, what remains of Nan Goldin is this will to fight against a sealed world. A deep anchoring in the present which translates today into an intrinsic activism.
Noémie de Bellaigue
“Käthe-Kollwitz-Preis 2022. Nan Goldin” at the Berlin Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste), until April 16, 2023.