Nan Goldin

Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC


Not on display

Nan Goldin born 1953
Photograph, dye destruction print on paper mounted on board
Image: 695 × 1015 mm
Purchased 1997


This is a large colour photograph of a couple on a bed in a New York apartment. The image is partly blurred as though the camera was moved at the moment of shutter release. Its acid colours indicate artificial light, suggesting that the photograph was taken indoors. The couple look away from each other. Robert, on the right of the image, looks out of the frame towards the floor. Greer, whose supine body extends through the centre of the frame to the left side, gazes blankly in the direction of the camera. There are dark shadows beneath her eyes; one skinny hand clutches the wrist of the other arm as if to support it; she is lost in contemplation of something not accessible to the viewer. Two garishly painted plastic masks, of the kind sold by toyshops, hang above the bed, one over each member of the couple. These heighten the sense of separation between the two people.

As a print, Greer and Robert on the bed exists in an edition of twenty-five. It is also a component image in Goldin’s slide show and first book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Goldin has explained the themes of this work:

I often fear that men and women are irrevocably strangers to each other, irreconcilably unsuited, almost as if they were from different planets. But there is an intense need for coupling in spite of it all. Even if relationships are destructive, people cling together. It’s a biochemical reaction … love can be an addiction. I have a strong desire to be independent, but at the same time a craving for the intensity that comes from interdependency. The tension this creates seems to be a universal problem: the struggle between autonomy and dependency. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency begins and ends with this premise … I’m trying to figure out what makes coupling so difficult.
(Quoted in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, p.7.)

Goldin’s photographs, of herself, her lovers and her friends, have a diaristic function. They combine a spontaneous, snap-shot aesthetic with social portraiture in the genre of Hungarian born, French photographer George Brassai (1899–1984) and American photographer Diane Arbus (1923–71). While many of the subjects of the photographs are glamorous, their circumstances are emotionally raw and gritty. She has said ‘I want to show exactly what my world looks like, without glamorisation, without glorification. This is not a bleak world but one in which there is an awareness of pain, a quality of introspection’ (quoted in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, p.6). Goldin began showing her photographic portraits as slides when she did not have access to a darkroom and could not afford to have prints made. The first public presentation of her images occurred in the New York clubs and bars where she worked and played in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Through repeated showing the series of slides was edited and developed a narrative. In 1981 Goldin titled it The Ballad of Sexual Dependency after ‘The Ballad of Sexual Obsession’ in The Threepenny Opera (1928) by Bertholt Brecht (1898–1956) and Kurt Weill (1900–50). The work has continued to be added to over time. In 1986 an abridged version of it was published as a book by Aperture Press, New York. The slide show has been digitised and linked with a sound-track collated using blues, reggae, rock and opera music. Lyrics, rhythms and tunes underscore and influence the narrative sequence of the photographic images. Vivienne in the red dress, NYC 1980 (Tate P78043) and Nan one month after being battered 1984 (P78045) also appear in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Goldin’s friend Greer Lankton was one of two trans women Goldin was close to in the 1980s and photographs of her were included in Goldin’s book The Other Side.

Further reading
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, New York 1986, reproduced (colour) pp.2–3.
Nan Goldin, The Other Side, Manchester 1993.
Nan Goldin: I’ll Be Your Mirror, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1996, reproduced (colour) p.176.

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2001

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Display caption

‘My work comes from the snapshot’, Goldin has said. ‘It’s the form of photography that is most defined by love. People take them out of love and they take them to remember – people, places, times. They’re about creating a history by recording a history.’ The spontaneous snapshot is closely associated with family photography – a fitting style for The Ballad, which can be viewed as a family album. Greer Lankton was an artist who lived in Goldin’s Bowery loft for a number of years. She had changed her sex at an early age. Goldin has said that this picture captures the intensity of unresolved desire.

Gallery label, April 2019

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Technique and condition

A cibachrome photograph printed on high gloss resin coated paper, which has been drymounted to a sheet of foam core board. The print is signed and dated with the title inscribed on the verso. The print is in mint condition.

Calvin Winner
September 1998


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