The Ballad of Sexual Dependency reveals Nan Goldin’s most intimate experiences and moments of love and loss. Now on show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the deeply personal narratives go back to the late 1970s and 1980s, a time in which the artist’s life was dominated by drug use and domestic violence.
With the reinstallation of the museum’s second floor contemporary galleries, about 700 snapshot-like portraits of her partner and herself sequenced against an evocative soundtrack take in the large-scale gallery space, allowing deep encounters between artist and visitors. “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read. The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember”, Goldin later wrote about her work. While suffering from the abuse that she documented, they were regular guests at night clubs and bonded with their children during the day. Her captures reflect their experiences with ecstasy and pain through sex and their dealing with the ravages of AIDS; experiences that have shaped Goldin’s artistic expression.
Named after a song in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Ballad resembles a kind of downtown opera, taking place in New York, Boston, Berlin and elsewhere. It developed through multiple improvised live performances when she would run through the slides by hand while friends helped prepare the soundtrack; a soundtrack from Maria Callas to The Velvet Underground for an audience not unlike the subjects of the pictures.
Along with Goldin’s personal slideshow, the exhibition features two other contemporary artists, Teiji Furuhashi with Lovers (1994) and Tony Oursler with Imponderable (2015-16). The Ballad is presented in its 35mm original format along with photographs from the Museum’s collection and introduced by materials of the artists’ archive at the museum, including posters and flyers announcing early iterations of the main exhibit.
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Museum of Modern Art, New York until 12 February, 2017. For more information www.moma.org.
1. Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in Bed (1981). Courtesy of MoMA.