The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
“The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read.”
I sat in a dark room at the MoMA and watched a slideshow of nearly 700 snapshots. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a visual diary that chronicles Nan Goldin’s and her friends bohemian lives. Goldin moved to the Bowery after earning a degree in fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. In New York, she began documenting herself and those around her. Many of Goldin’s friends died of overdoses and AIDS. What’s striking about Goldin’s slideshow is how the music encapsulated every image.
An image of Cookie and Vittorio’s wedding in 1986 appears on the screen for a moment. Goldin captured the love and joy in their faces, the bride wiped tears from her eyes and looking at that image suggests a happy future awaits the couple. Death came for them three years later. Later we see Cookie in an open coffin, it is perhaps one of the most difficult images to forget. In grief, Goldin managed to memorialize the dead… her dead. It wasn’t just another an event to chronicle, there was a silence surrounding AIDS. Reagan didn’t mention AIDS publicly until 1985, years after the disease was discovered. Although NYC was the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, it was largely ignored by Mayor Ed Koch. Is it possible Nan Goldin had to document her dead so that no one could forget?
Between the pain and carefree moments, I was mesmerized by every emotion that Goldin captured even abuse. “Nan one month after being battered” was uncomfortable and I knew it was meant to be. Typical images of abuse victims seem clinical, taken in a matter of fact manner to document every bruise. This image evoked an unexpected emotion. I gasped but no one could hear me, the music was loud enough to hide any sound. The pearls, earrings, and bright red lipstick all felt strange; I wondered if those items were Goldin’s attempt to reject the label of a victim. The image itself is powerful, it’s probably the reason many visited the exhibit. My interpretation was Nan Goldin needed a permanent reminder to never return to her lover. Once her bruises faded and she was tempted to return to Brian, there was an image to remind her to stay away. She and her friends harbored addictions to drugs, love, and the unknown. Brian was an addiction.
Dean Martin’s “Memories are Made of This” played as the slides changed. Towards the end their faces changed, they weren’t as youthful or hopeful, some figures grew frail, but it wasn’t age that had changed them. Was it life or illness, perhaps both? Knowledge has a way of dimming one’s hope. The final pictures of cemeteries left me believing death had left its imprint on Nan Goldin.
You can view Nan Goldin’s exhibit at the Matthew Marks Gallery until October 21, 2017.
Matthew Marks Gallery
523 West 24 Street
New York, NY 10011
Aperture: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin. You can find it here