Thursday, September 15, 2016

Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, The Museum of Modern Art

Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City. 1983. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006, 15 1/2 × 23 3/16". The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

If you were around during the mid- to late-1980s in New York City, you probably know of Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexually Dependency. If you are 20-to-30-something, interested in that “scene,” and/or live outside of New York, you may own the photobook—or have perhaps flipped through it in a bookstore, possibly seen an image from the series online. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you must at least be curious about the title alone.

MoMA’s iteration of The Ballad is arranged in three rooms: ephemera from previous exhibitions/screenings in one, framed photos from the series traditionally hung on the gallery walls in another, and the final slideshow room—with soundtrack—depicting the intimate moments that compose The Ballad. Goldin wasn’t shy with her camera; “[it] is the diary I let people read.” This shoot-everything style of photography is common today since everyone has a camera in their pocket or purse, but what makes The Ballad so powerful is its voyeuristic feel and its scattered narrative quality. We all curate our own real-time streams of photos online to tell our stories, but Goldin's story has no filter, no facade.

In the slideshow, visitors sit in the dark and watch the images clip by at a steady pace, fully-engaged because there is something for everyone in The Ballad, whether it be a kiss or evidence of abuse from a lover, motherhood or family, cigarettes or drug-use. Even though we are all voyeurs into a life we didn't live populated with people we didn't know, you walk out of The Ballad happy knowing that you are not alone. Goldin's loose but thoughtfully crafted Ballad has the ability to resonate in everyone.


  1. Reading this review, I feel like I’m having a personal conversation with you about this show that really impacted you. Which is really fitting, considering how intimate the work is in this Nan Goldin show. I’d like to hear more about the content of the photographs, since both content and form (in this case) work together to make delightfully impactful works. The senses of nostalgia voyeurism you’re talking about are very heavy in this show. Maybe you could expound on how the images could be somewhat upsetting and still comforting, as they leave you “happy knowing that you are not alone”.

  2. I think your review describes what the show is about in a very compelling and clear way. The casual and smooth language engages the reader in a conversation, a good one, starting with an attention-grabbing question, then explaining what it is all about and soon concluding with a concise idea. But I think would reconsider this final conclusion. Were people really smiling and experiencing nostalgia? Or were they cringing a little bit, specially when confronted with images of strangers having sex or shooting heroin? Or maybe the answer is more of a mix of it all.