Nan Goldin's Scopophilia

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Scopophilia, or, “love of looking,” is Nan Goldin’s first New York exhibition since 2007. Photographs from Goldin’s career are paired, often seamlessly, with photographs Goldin took of paintings and sculpture inside the Louvre museum. 

In Scopophilia, the aesthetic juxtapositions poignantly draw the photographic figure into a ubiquitous sea of painterly representations of the sensual body. Goldin adoringly finds these moments in the paintings and sculptures the way she relates with the people in her life. All images are enthralled to convene, and converse as lovers respectfully undressing each other. The juxtapositions are accessible to even the uncommon viewer--one unfamiliar with Goldin’s photographs and arrive at a key that unlocks functions of the human spirit--looking into each other and ourselves, sharing fluids and experiencing love. 

Nan Goldin repurposes her photographs perhaps more than any other contemporary photographer. Her bodies of work are not solid; they are bodies in the same way bodies function within her work--temporary, amorphous and growing. It would be easy to criticize Goldin for re-using her images one too many times, and for having the audacity to position her oeuvre among the likes of the embalmed paintings of the Louvre. The 26 minute long slide presentation is overlaid with piano and harp interludes that invoke water. Spurts of presumptuous operatic verses are reminiscent of PBS specials on Renaissance masters, as Nan’s commentary, in a washed-up voice notes,

“My head thrown back, I let my gaze dwell on the ceiling. I underwent the proufoundest experience of ecstacy I had ever encountered. I had obtained a supreme degree of sensibility where the divine intimations of art merged with the impassioned sensuality of emotion. Between them and me, telepathic exchanges. Divination.” 

Yet this audacity is one of the work’s many strong points. Goldin’s career photographs maintain their vulnerability, reframing the imaged paintings in contemporary ecstasy. Steadfastly pursuing avenues of juxtaposition with works that function independently as personal documentary is an art in itself. It is rare to see an artist construct such radical juxtapositions so seamlessly; I could actually locate new life in her iconic photographs. 

Perhaps the conglomeration of imagery works so well for me because I grew up looking at Nan Goldin. In my formative years, her work cycled through my head as my own vernacular of emotions. Still today, thirteen years after I first stumbled upon Couples and Loneliness at fifteen in a Borders in Birmingham, Michigan, the tender, tenuous, painful and liberated are often transcoded in my mind's eye through a Nan Goldin filter. I was thrilled to find these characters had snuck away from their static place in the photographic memory as a set of ephemeral, risky lives, and are now residing timelessly among nymphs and Ophelias. It was as though they had somehow made it out unscathed after all.

Scopophilia is on view at Matthew Marks Gallery, 522 West 22nd Street (between 10th and 11th avenues), until December 23rd. 

Images © Nan Goldin, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

© Nan Goldin, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery



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