Nan Goldin

Nan one month after being battered


Not on display

Nan Goldin born 1953
Photograph, dye destruction print on paper mounted on board
Image: 695 × 1015 mm
frame: 737 × 1056 × 35 mm
Purchased 1997


This is a large colour photograph of the artist staring directly at the camera. Intense red blood in the white of her swollen left eye mirrors the shade of her lipstick. Dark bruises colour the skin around it and below her right eye. In contrast to the physical damage she defiantly offers to the camera, she appears well groomed. Her hair is glossy and well brushed and, in addition to the bright red lipstick, she is wearing dangly earrings and a necklace. She has photographed herself against a piece of dark wooden furniture and a white embroidered curtain that appears bluish in the artificial night-time light. The dark shadows behind her head indicate the use of a flash bulb. As a photographic print, this image exists in an edition of twenty-five. It marks the end of a long-term relationship and a particular period in the artist's life and provides the emotional climax of Goldin's slide show and book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. It also appears in Goldin's more recent slide show series of self-portraits titled All By Myself 1995-6. She has explained the situation leading up to this image:

For a number of years I was deeply involved with a man. We were well suited
emotionally and the relationship became very interdependent. Jealousy was used to

inspire passion. His concept of relationships was rooted in … romantic idealism … I craved the dependency, the adoration, the satisfaction, the security, but sometimes I felt claustrophobic. We were addicted to the amount of love the relationship supplied ... Things between us started to break down, but neither of us could make the break. The desire was constantly reinspired at the same time that the dissatisfaction became undeniable. Our sexual obsession remained one of the hooks. One night, he battered me severely, almost blinding me.

(Quoted in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, p.8.)

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). She 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 Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC 1982 (P78044) also appear in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Goldin has explained:

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 … 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.)

Further reading:
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, New York 1986, p.8, reproduced (colour) p.83
Nan Goldin: I'll be your Mirror, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1996, pp.36 and 319, reproduced (colour) p.198

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2001

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Display caption

In 1984 Goldin was physically assaulted by her then-lover in a Berlin hotel, requiring major surgery as a result. Her self-portrait after the event reflects Goldin’s honest approach, which never avoided showing personal trauma. Marking the end of a long-term relationship, the image acts as the emotional climax of The Ballad. Goldin says ‘I took this picture so that I would never go back to him.’

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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