Nan Goldin

Date/place of birth

September 12, 1953, Washington, D.C., United States

Nan Goldin - Greer and Robert on the bed, New York City
Nan Goldin - Greer and Robert on the bed, New York City

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Nan Goldin biography

Nan Goldin photographs the zeitgeist, documenting and portraying a world of drugs, sex and violence with unsparing candour, at the centre of which she herself stands. The intimate pictorial work of the American photo artist is closely interwoven with her personal biography.

Nan Goldin – Independent amateur photographer in the underground

Nan Goldin was born in Washington on 12 September 1953. A tragic fatality shadowed her childhood: When her sister Barbara Holly, four years her elder, took her own life, Goldin was only fourteen, but in the wake of this, she decided to leave her parental home early. She moved into shared accommodation with friends and began to work as an amateur photographer. In doing so, the young men and women around her served as models – a method she also retained in later years. She could only photograph someone for whom she felt something, Nan Goldin declared in 2010 – by then already an established photo artist. He photographer friend David Armstrong introduced her to the homosexual and transsexual scene, which led her at the beginning of her career into an often dissolute and restless life in a hidden demimonde in the underground of America’s cities. It was here that Goldin discovered her predilection for drag queens, which she cultivated over many years, and which she frequently portrayed, especially in the early years. 

Breakthrough with a photographic ballad about sexuality

Following her first successful attempt in the field of photography, Nan Goldin decided to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, by which time she had already presented her first pictures in an exhibition. Upon graduation, Goldin moved to New York in 1978 where her most famous work, the photo series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was created in the 1980s. The title was taken from the Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht – the content was conceived as a form of family diary, whereby the family in this case embodied the artist’s tribe. Goldin had already publicly presented the earliest form of this work in 1979 in the Mud Club in New York, but it would be expanded and modified in the years that followed. Initially, these were mainly privately taken snapshots of the artist by her friends and acquaintances amongst the New York transvestite milieu. 

Artistic participation in eroticism, intimacy, and despair

Because of her intimate and unvarnished depictions of the reality of gays, lesbians, transvestites and those infected with AIDS, Nan Goldin often had to deal with the accusation of sensationalism and voyeurism. The artist encountered such criticism however with the assertion that the often direct shots are her form of family pictures. She photographs and documents a milieu that she herself belongs to. Hence it is not the voyeuristic view of the external photographer, but the direct participation of someone involved. Golding also took a new approach with its circulation: in order to reach the widest possible audience, the sensational project was published in book form following several public presentations, although the cost for such a publication was deliberately kept low. The book included only 125 of the original 800-plus photographs, but they were hand-picked by the artist and arranged in a fixed order in meaningful groups. Sexuality was the central theme, which Goldin discerned as a unifying force of attraction between different personalities - fascination that could lead to despair for all those involved. 

Sensational protest against the Sackler patron family

Nan Goldin has also painfully tasted this despair and emptiness herself in her career, during the great AIDS epidemic of the 1980s for example, in which she lost many of her friends, or during her own drug addiction. Having conquered her first addiction, she fell under the influence once again after taking the controversial painkiller Oxycontin. As a result of her renewed rehabilitation, the artist has since been engaged on a broad front against the manufacturer of the medication - the US pharmaceutical company Purdue - and its owner, the Sackler family. Goldin led public protest actions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the New York Guggenheim which is especially piquant as the Sackler family sponsors numerous art institutions with sums in the millions – Goldin and her fellow campaigners want these considerable sums to be invested in the treatment of addiction instead.

Nan Goldin lives and works today primarily in New York.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Nan Goldin Prices

Nan GoldinGreer and Robert on the bed, New York City€12.400
Nan GoldinSelf portrait in kimono with Brian, New York City€12.400
Nan GoldinYogo in the Mirror€7.320
Nan GoldinNan on Brian's lap, Nan's Birthday, New York City€4.960
Nan GoldinStromboli at Dawn€3.472
Nan GoldinJimmy Paulette after the Parade, New York€2.976

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