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
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
Also for me it was love at first sight.
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
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
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
George Grosz’ etchings,
Schiele’s work and
self-portraits. These artists deal with pain and they are critics of
society. I love
Arte Povera. I love
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.