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It still comes from love
Nan Goldin in conversation with Piotr Nathan

Ever since the early eighties, Nan Goldin has been travelling back and forth between New York and Berlin, where she met the artist Piotr Nathan in the early nineties. The two have been close friends ever since. Nathan met with the photographer on the occasion of her exhibition at the Sprüth Magers Gallery; the outcome is a very personal conversation about Goldin’s traumatic childhood experiences, true art, and her new aversion to flash exposure.

Nan Goldin, Anthony by the Sea, Brighton, England 1979
Deutsche Bank Collection

Nan Goldin’s life forms the center of her artistic work. The American photographer became known in the early eighties for her legendary slide show The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, named after a song from Threepenny Opera. As a kind of visual journal, it consists of around 700 photographs; accompanied by a sound track of pop songs and opera arias, it was first shown in New York’s clubs and later at international film festivals. Sex and drugs, love dramas, and nightlife: Nan Goldin’s unembellished images, which were influenced by Larry Clark, resemble snapshots; they portray the life of the photographer and her friends and quickly took over the galleries and museums. Many young photographers, such as Wolfgang Tillmanns, were inspired by her aesthetic. In 1996, the Whitney Museum in New York dedicated a comprehensive retrospective to Nan Goldin called I’ll Be Your Mirror, which was also exhibited in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. Three works by Nan Goldin were shown in 25, the anniversary exhibition of the Deutsche Bank Collection. The collection has just purchased another photograph by the artist called Anthony by the Sea, Brighton, England 1979, a work from the series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

Nan Goldin and Piotr Nathan, Munich 2005 Photo: Skye Parrott

Piotr Nathan: Do you still remember how we got to know each other?

Nan Goldin: It was at a group show at the Wewerka & Weiss Gallery. When I walked in, you looked at me and smiled. It was love at first sight. I didn’t know you were gay for the first half-hour or so. And so I thought: Oh my God. He’s the one! I had this huge crush on you. Your empathy, warmth, kindness – that was really unusual among people in Berlin at that time. To be so giving so quickly, and I don’t mean that fake ‘I love you’ kind of bullshit. I knew it was real.

Also for me it was love at first sight.

We should have gotten married right then (laughs). There was a period when I really wanted to have your child, seriously. It was a big fantasy of mine. That was eleven years ago, in 1994.

Simon in my bed, Paris, 2004
©Nan Goldin, Courtesy Galerie Sprüth Magers, Köln, München

Nan, your photography has always been extremely personal. You mostly take pictures of people who are close to you. Have you observed a change in that over time?

No, it still comes from love. I never photograph anyone I don’t love. Although now I increasingly photograph landscapes and states of feeling through abstraction. Like the buildings in my new show, which sort of convey the feeling of being suicidal. They look like they’re falling. The landscapes can be scary, or beautiful and stormy, or lonely, depending on how I'm feeling. Or they convey a sense of loss.

If you look back to where you began, is there an equation between trauma and inspiration?

Of course. Most artists I respect work out of trauma or deal with trauma and pain – whether it’s external or internal or a combination of both.

Guido in the forest, Tulles, Dordogne, 2005
©Nan Goldin, Courtesy Galerie Srüth Magers, Köln, München

I think the audience likes to see pain.

No, I don’t think so. If you go to collections, so much of the new British art is about jokes. They love this kind of joke art. Do you think Damien Hirst is working out of trauma? So much popular contemporary work is really about jokes. There’s no depth to it. They’re cynical jokes. The artists I love are the color-field painters like Ad Reinhardt or Mark Rothko, whose work is all about the question of eternity – or the German Expressionists. I like Otto Dix and Christian Schad, George Grosz’ etchings, Schiele’s work and Munch’s self-portraits. These artists deal with pain and they are critics of society. I love Arte Povera. I love Richard Tuttle, Bruce Nauman and many photographers. I like Gregor Schneider. I like people who deal with stuff that has an element of trauma or pain. I like really deep work.

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