Nan Goldin in conversation with Robert Storr at 92ndSt Y
I am the proud owner of a small and beautiful Nan Goldin work that I bought at a benefit my first year in New York. I really love her photographs and was excited to go see her at the 92nd Street Y. Not only did the audience get to hear her speak, but she also screened a work that has never before been seen in the United States. “Scopophilia,” currently on view at the Louvre is a slide work (since slides are not used anymore Nan has reluctantly made the shift to digital).
As Storr explained in her introduction, we are most familiar with her photographs from the 1970s and 1980s capturing an intimate glimpse into her world. Usually these are photographs one would only see if they were in an album of their creation but Goldin let us enter her world and raised them to a level of “high art.”
“Scopophilia” is part of an exhibition at Paris’s Louvre called “Faces and Bodies” curated by a famous director, Patrice Chereau who invited her to participate. She is the only visual artist included in the show–most of the work includes paintings from the Louvre as well as performances and dance. “Scopa” meaning to look and “philia” meaning brotherly love, Nan selected the title because it best represented her relationship with the artworks in the Louvre during her weekly visits for eight months. Her love in art was reawakened. During those periods she got to be alone in the museum photographing works. Her exploration became visceral and emotional, and she said it was one of the most amazing experiences of her life.
The work begins with detailed photographs both in and out of focus of works from the Louvre, the Met and the Musee D’Orsay. Juxtaposed with these images are photos of Nan’s that are more familiar to those who know her work. Snapshots taken between 1977 and 2010 of friends and loved ones are used. There are themes Nan focuses on such as Pygmalion, Cupid and Psyche, etc. Her voice briefly explains the story and then many images appear that evoke that myth. At the same time a haunting soprano sings medieval songs that calm the viewer and resonate perfectly with the imagery.
Lovers kiss and marble sculptures embrace. Women breast feed, people bathe. It is an astoundingly beautiful and mesmerizing work. Simple observation is all that is required. The piece makes you recognize how often we don’t stop to carefully observe anything that comes across our visual path. Goldin makes wonderful connections that made me want to go bask in the old school paintings at the Met. Goldin explains that she went to the Louvre feeling scared but ended up falling in love with all of the works.
This work is in stark contrast to her last installation piece, “Sisters, Saints and Sibyls” that she made about her sister’s time spent in an institution. That work, also never seen in America, was very difficult for her and she said it will most likely be the last work she makes that is autobiographical.
Storr asked Goldin if Old Master paintings influence the lighting in her photographs. She answered that yes, there are always painting references in her vision when she takes pictures. She used to go to the garden of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and sit to look at the works.
I found it fascinating to hear her state that she is not seen as a living artist making new work, although that is exactly what she is doing. People tend to only associate her with the series “The Ballad” which has become iconic imagery. That work she explained was misunderstood. It was not about the Lower East Side and marginalization. It was about coupling and the experiences that humans have in those moments of trying to make it work. She only began using a digital camera eight months ago and she does not like it. She called it “scary.” She thinks most contemporary art “looks like crap.”