Nan Goldin: Scopophilia
Matthew Marks Gallery
October 22 – December 23
Gleaning from the Louvre’s permanent collection and her personal archive spanning 1977 to 2010, Nan Goldin’s Scopophilia draws highly personalized and emotive parallels between art and life. The body of work on display demonstrates Goldin’s feminine and feminist perspectives on sensuality, affectionately displaying blemishes and imperfections to reveal the unabashed vulnerability of her subjects.
Goldin pits the idealized against the authentic by distinguishing nudity from nakedness, treating the male and female body with utmost impartiality. Fluidly obscuring distinctions between genders with facility, she continually confronts questions concerning her own sexual identification and orientation.
Her accompanying video work poses intriguing questions and binds the exhibition together through mythological text and emotive music. She toys with the idea that inspiration can exist as both a fore and after-thought. While the divine entities and well-connected lovers whose likenesses inhabit the Louvre’s sculptures and paintings may have originally served to inspire the works’ conception, Goldin astutely demonstrates how these images inspire desire by drawing analogies to her personal life.
However, her particular style reveals the photographic medium’s limitations for poetic idealism. Although they exemplify the incredible effects of still photography such as the capacity for instantaneous capture, her photographs of water are decidedly less allegorical than their sculptural and painted counterparts from the Louvre. Rather, these photographs emphasize the artful sensuality of cascading water captured at high shutter speeds. In this series she is forced to acknowledge the fixed boundaries of her spontaneous, candid style, which entirely precludes idealistic perfection.
Moreover, her one-to-one comparisons of photographs of close friends juxtaposed against portraits found in the Louvre offer a far too obscurely personal association to appreciate beyond superficial resemblance. This portrait group hung in the gallery’s circular niche embodies a significance that is by no means universal. Here Goldin adheres tightly to her personal experiences and intimate social circle, but does so with admirable conviction. In this way, she avoids forced diversity or false and overweening eccentricity, and instead appears genuine.
Still, this body of work pays tribute to what Goldin has sought to achieve throughout her career: perceptively capturing moments that speak to the human experience, such as feelings of alienation, rejection, and desire. The subtle cropping in her Louvre photographs translates these concepts in terms of existing art objects, through observations of their slight defects, damage, and wear. Furthermore, her insistence on imperfect camerawork contributes another layer to her ruminations on the beauty of flaws. Her typology of Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World progressively reveals her presence as photographer through blurred focus and the appearance of the flash. In so doing she simultaneously exposes her observation process.
Scopophilia, meaning “the love of looking,” exemplifies Goldin’s gift for shrewd observations and exploits the aesthetic qualities specific to photography that have defined her career to their full potential. Although authenticity and vulnerability have always been trademark characteristics of Goldin’s work, she has never before used such overt historical visual sources to this effect.
Stephanie Peterson is a New York-based writer. Her research interests include figurative painting in Europe, intersections between traditional and contemporary media, and the revival of historical techniques and themes as a means to cope with trauma. She is currently enrolled in the art history PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center.
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