Monday, September 04, 2006

Nan Goldin in "Full House"

What's behind Nan Goldin's pursuit of those men? You know, the sweaty, smoking, tattooed, moody, drunk, damaged, and violent men? We're asking in earnest, in order to understand her work. Is it simply the "bad boy" thing? Or is part of her apparent self-destructive tendencies?

Nan Goldin is one of our favorite artists, but sometimes we feel suspicious. The "bad boy" was isolated and subverted by Richard Prince, and the "victim girl" by Cindy Sherman. She's unmatched in her efforts to document the NY demimonde and essential in the snapshot aesthetic, acutely intimate, a master of seizing "the moment" and maximizing photography's ability to reveal telling nanoseconds of drama. Books about AIDs should include her for her revelatory documentation of the disease's toll. We watched her slideshow, "Ballad of Sexual Dependency," 700 images, two-and-a-half times in the freezing cold room at the Whitney's mezzanine.

That underworld resists the passive role of the documentee, and instead reaches back out. It fucks her, loves her, gets her high, and beats her. And the male culprits populate her images, unchecked, unchallenged; everything is romantic, like the misogynist street thugs in a Genet novel. Instead of challenging problematic masculinity, guys gone wild, Goldin gets seduced and has bruises to prove it. Yet we wonder if she kinda likes it, after seeing her self-inflicted cuts and cigarette burns in "Sisters, Saints, and Sybils."

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