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The photography of Nan Goldin offers audiences a kaleidoscopic narrative of the breadth of the human experience. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing to the present, Goldin captures her world as it unfolds before her, resulting in a diaristic account of her life and and the people and places that define it. Treating her camera as an extension of her own body, “creating a history by recording a history,” Goldin shields her memories from revision or erasure by preserving them permanently in photographic form. The result is an unvarnished, intimate, and honest glimpse into a full life that has played out in New York City, Boston, Provincetown, and abroad, against the backdrops of nightclubs and drag bars, hotel rooms and hospitals, and more. By experiencing Goldin’s work, we bear witness to her reality and that of the people who inhabited her evolving surroundings, with whom she formed a kind of alternate family—a chosen family. The intimacy of the photographs not only provide a window into the lives that surrounded Goldin, but validate the many twists, turns, and paths that occur in all of our lives, resulting in a deeply personal, yet resoundingly universal experience of art and humanity.
Organized by the Portland Museum of Art, Nan Goldin: Family History explores American artist Nan Goldin’s (b. 1953) use of photography as a means of communication, self-reflection, and poetic expression.
Nan Goldin: Family History traces the notions of “family” and “history” as they intertwine in Goldin’s singular body of work. After leaving her parents’ suburban home at the age of 13, Goldin began to take pictures of the people who inhabited her evolving surroundings with unvarnished candor. Throughout the artist’s visual autobiography, in which her subjects move with blithe abandon, intimacy is ubiquitous. In the form of ordinary gestures—the cast of a gaze or the curve of a hand—Goldin reveals the presence of love, rapture, pain, and loss in her own encounters, as well as in those of her friends and lovers. Collectively, these photographs impart an image of kinship that helps shape our modern understanding of both the construction and documentation of new models of family.
The exhibition comprises two of the artist’s seminal multimedia installations, a series of grids in which Goldin has grouped—and in many cases reprinted—her photographs into narrative themes, several works from her most recent project, and nearly two dozen photographs that span her prolific career.
Image: Nan Goldin (United States, born 1953), Picnic on the Esplanade, Boston, 1973, silver-dye bleach print, 17 5/8 x 21 5/8 inches. © Nan Goldin, courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.