This is Nan Goldin’s first London solo show in almost 20 years, and it’s really drawing the crowds. The exhibition begins with one of the US photographer’s trademark digital slideshows, The Other Side, a compilation of 25 years of candid snaps of her friends on society’s margins. The next room features some of the stills from which she sourced the slideshow.
Her subjects, showgirls, drag queens and groupies, have plaquey teeth, smoke a lot cigarettes and are photogenically skinny. They’re shot with a deliberate lack of compositional care and are deliberately awkwardly lit. Goldin defined this style that’s still with us, though the subject matter of cross-dressers and drug addiction lacks its power to shock in a world of RuPaul on the BBC and class As on the dark web.
On the rest of the ground floor, there’s a couple of theatrical video installations, one of which, Memory Lost, deals movingly with Goldin’s hideous-sounding past addiction to Oxycontin . Upstairs, there are some negligible, semi-abstracted landscapes. Which if nothing else are suggestive that the world-famous photographer now has a lot more budget to play (and travel) with.
Goldin’s friend Peter Hujar has a retrospective on at the Jeu de Paume right now, which I found, in its glassy formal perfection, a vastly more engaging and moving take on similar subject matter. But maybe that’s me being a picky critic, always trying to compare. Goldin and Hujar were great friends, and learned a lot from each other.
Neither seem life-changingly relevant today, but that’s as much due to the artistic world they helped create through being so influential. They helped set the scene.
Nan Goldin: Sirens is at Marian Goodman Gallery (London). November 14 2019 - January 11 2020