The subject of her major internationally-touring retrospective, This Will Not End Well, Nan Goldin’s iconic slideshows delve into a range of images both historical and contemporary to affirm the artist’s unique position between photography and film. By weaving her private photographic archive into an exhibition for public viewing, Goldin transforms the medium into a shifting, interactive record of pleasure and pain, longing and loss.
The cornerstone of Fraenkel Gallery’s current exhibition is Memory Lost, a projected video compiled between 2019 and 2021, composed of still and moving outtakes from the artist’s collection of slides and old super-8 films. The dreamlike images depicting her life and circles of friends appear on-screen alongside haunting music and disembodied voices yearning for connection—including archived answering machine messages and contemporary interviews.
Goldin’s foray into filmmaking stems from her obsession with cinema, which started in her teenage years. When she came to New York, she became close to underground filmmakers Vivienne Dick, Lizzie Borden, and Bette Gordon. She worked with them as an actress and still photographer. On the set of Bette Gordon’s Variety, Goldin took this striking portrait of a young woman working the box office at a New York City pornographic theater, which was later included in her groundbreaking piece, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.
Foregrounding the communal qualities of its production, Ballad took shape as a photo album of friends in moments of wild passion and introspection, a “diary I let people read,” Goldin later recounted. “The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.” 1
The exhibition of Goldin’s films has been communal, upending the familial slide carousel with more transgressive displays that transformed gay clubs into avant-garde theaters. From The Saint club in the East Village to the 1985 Whitney Biennial, Ballad adapted to its venue and audience. Subsequent iterations of the filmic performance display the complex reckoning with the ongoing AIDS crisis: both the painful mourning of the loss of friends and the hopeful persistence of their memory.
The artist’s intoxicating immersion into queer life’s extravagant struggle finds particular focus in The Other Side. The film’s thirty-years of photographs stand as a retrospective of queens and trans women living between New York, Boston, Paris and Bangkok. The poet Eileen Myles aptly describes the slide show as “a great artist’s portrait of an ephemeral life of snapshots and posing, a vernacular fashion show with delicious urban backdrops…” 2
In 2017, after her recovery for an addiction to the painkiller OxyContin, the artist drew upon her history of impassioned activism during the AIDS crisis, strengthened by her connections with David Wojnarowicz and ACT UP, to form a coalition of artists and activists called P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now).
While contending with her own struggles with drug addiction, the artist has relied on her photographic and filmic practice to spur awareness of the alarming connection between the art world and the overdose crisis. Laura Poitras’s award-winning 2022 documentary, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, highlights P.A.I.N.s successes. The film intertwines Goldin’s activism with her life long artistic practice and delves deeply into her personal history.
In Memory Lost, the artist reflects on the darkness and alienation of drug addiction. By giving form to feelings of anguish, despair, and alienation, Goldin replicates the experience of withdrawal. Joining her photographs into a moving sequence, she re-animates the memories that continue to elude her.
- Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, eds. Marvin Heiferman, Mark Holborn, and Suzanne Fletcher (New York: Aperture, 1982), 6.
- Eileen Myles, “Not Boston,” in This Will Not End Well, eds. Teresa Hahr, Fredrik Liew, and Nan Goldin Studio (Stockholm and Göttingen: Moderna Museet / Steidl, 2022), 74-75 (74).