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Nan Goldin: The somnambulist’s foray

Goldin's exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie is a foray into decadent 1980s that so many of us mourn without ever having tasted. The 80 selected photographs are now on display.

Image for Nan Goldin: The somnambulist's foray
Photo by Nan Goldin

In 1965, when Nan Goldin was 12 years old and living with her upper-middle-class family in a suburb of Boston, her older sister committed suicide. Three years later a teacher introduced her to the camera, and Goldin has been documenting escapism and other coping mechanisms ever since.

Berlinische Galerie’s exhibition of 80 Goldin-selected photographs, some of which have never before been displayed, works like a time capsule. Primarily focused on the decade between 1984 and 1994, when Goldin spent a lot of time in Berlin, the works try to depict the intimacy of Berlin’s gritty party scene. Goldin’s life-long pursuit of sex, drugs and pretty people to love is proudly displayed, eagerly embracing the immortality of photo documentation.

It shares the naïve complacency of a bohemian expat’s literary journal – as Goldin scrupulously records (and displays) the colour of her days. She works not with words but through the many snapshots of the human fauna that have populated her escapades here (clothed and naked, in the intimacy of a bath tub, or in public places).

The result reads like a somnambulist’s foray into those decadent 1980s that so many of us mourn without ever having tasted – which might explain the popularity of the exhibition, a snapshot of Berlin at its supposed cultural highpoint. A dream or a mirage?

Thematic organization is the visitor’s task – time, location, subjects follow no logical order (a print-out with the names of the shiny people on display works as an explanatory note). But ‘reflection’ is certainly implied: people positioned before mirrors and windows, the world reflected on surfaces— water, faces, souls (or was that powdered heroin?).

Goldin is ever-present – in personal artifacts within the frame, in self-portraits, even her subjects as they fix their questioning gazes on the artist. Goldin reflects these gazes, the viewer gazes back, and the whole exhibition becomes an equilibrium-affecting hall of mirrors.

Nan Goldin now splits her time between Paris and New York. A hand injury from a fall in 2002 has made working difficult. But if she ever gets lonely, she can leaf through those hundreds of snapshots, and remember the Berlin years, populated with those shiny (mostly unhappy looking) people who were her friends and who loved her.

Through March 28