‘The ballad of sexual dependency’ + ‘All the beauty and the bloodshed’ by Nan Goldin

Until 28 January 2024, ‘The ballad of sexual dependency’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra invites audiences to peer into the life and times of internationally renowned American photographer and activist Nan Goldin whose creative work documents some of the most intimate moments of the life she shared with the people she loved most, ‘her tribe’.

Nan Goldin, Twisting at my birthday party, New York City, 1980 from the series The ballad of sexual dependency, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, purchased 2021 in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia’s 40th anniversary, 2022 © Nan Goldin

‘The ballad of sexual dependency’ showcases 126 photographs drawn from Goldin’s rich archive of photographs produced early in her artistic career as her way of recording precious memories.

In this instance, Goldin brings focus to her journey in art and life, the joys, the struggles, loves and losses, through the 1970s and ’80s always in the company of the people she adored.

Many of the images on display in the exhibition were once projected in slideshows onto the walls at parties and in underground clubs around Manhattan with music selected by the artist.

‘I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough.
In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost.’ – Nan Goldin

As an extension of herself and with the lens directed towards friends and lovers and the places where they lived, worked and played, Goldin shot not only the fun and the frivolities of their time, but most often the raw emotion and vulnerabilities that surfaced as she and her peers navigated the dynamics of relationships and intimacy, took drugs, explored their sexual identity, and witnessed the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in bed, New York City, 1983 from the series The ballad of sexual dependency, 1973-86, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, purchased 2021 in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia’s 40th anniversary, 2022 © Nan Goldin

Goldin pays homage to the experiences and memories of times past. As the shutter closed on the camera Goldin captured some of the most intimate moments between friends and lovers. We see moments of solitude and contemplation, physical and emotional interludes between lovers, tears and heartbreak, among bar and bathroom scenes as well as evocative portraits highlighting the highs and lows of living life in the context of the world Goldin walked and those she felt connected to.

For Goldin the stories in these images capture precious memories that call to her from far beyond the edges of the frame.

For me it is not a detachment to take a picture. It’s a way of touching somebody—it’s a caress, I think that you can actually give people access to their own soul.”

To discover more about Goldin’s inspirations head to National Gallery Curator Photography, Anne O’Hehir’s essay entitled ‘Nan Goldin’s lens on relationships’ featured on NGA’s website.

The National Gallery of Australia is open Monday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

Now screening on DocPlay: ‘All the beauty and the bloodshed’ (Rated 18+)
Running in parallel with the exhibition is the release of ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’, a documentary film directed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras charting the extraordinary journey of ‘the activist’ in Goldin and features imagery from key bodies of work by Goldin, including ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, ‘The Other Side’, ‘Sisters, Saints and Sibyls’, and ‘Memory Lost’, as well as interviews with Goldin, and other rarely seen footage.

The film follows the organisation P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) founded by Goldin in 2017 with a group of like-minded artists and activists whose collective vision was to advocate for harm reduction and overdose prevention, and to protest social and political injustices.

“All my work is about stigma, whether it’s suicide, mental illness, gender,” Goldin explains. “My earliest work was of drag queens in Boston in the early seventies, but I never realized my work was political ‘till about 1980. Maggie Smith, who ran the bar where I bartended for five years — she’s the one who made me see that the work was political.”

Watch the trailer here on DocPlay.

Viewer discretion is advised. Images depict explicit nudity, sexual acts, drug use, and the impacts of violence against women, and are not suitable for children under the age of 15.