Nan Goldin

Vivienne in the green dress, NYC


Not on display

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


Goldin took the colour photograph Vivienne in the green dress in an apartment in New York. As a print it 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. It portrays a young woman, in a green dress, standing next to a partially opened window. Blackness outside indicates that it is night. She stares directly at the camera positioned below her roughly at the level of her hands. A small, blue, portable radio is on the windowsill next to her. Closer to the camera, a dark blue glass vase holds a cluster of dried, reddish leaves. Their red colour echoes the red plastic bangle and intense red lipstick she wears. Her dress, made of a taffeta-like fabric, has the appearance of a thrift store find. It clearly belongs to an earlier era, such as the 1940s. Dressing up was an important part of Goldin's social life in the 1970s and early 1980s. Inspired by films and fashion magazines, she and her friends centred their lives on the creation and projection of glamorous new identities. Her earliest photographic work depicts room-mates and close friends in drag costume, either at home or in night clubs, first in Boston where Goldin grew up, and later in downtown New York where she moved in 1978. The majority of Goldin's images from this period are shot indoors and fuse intense colour with artificial light. In this particular portrait the use of a flash bulb has resulted in intense colour contrasts and dramatic shadows on the wall behind Vivienne's body creating a theatrical atmosphere. Goldin has stated:

The instant of photographing, instead of creating distance, is a moment of clarity
and emotional connection for me. There is a popular notion that the photographer
is by nature a voyeur, the last one invited to the party. But I'm not crashing; this is
my party. This is my family, my history. My desire is to preserve the sense of
people's lives, to endow them with the strength and beauty I see in them. I want
the people in my pictures to stare back. 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'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 Diane Arbus (1923-71). While many of the subjects of Goldin's photographs are 'glamorous', their world and circumstances are emotionally raw and gritty. Goldin began showing her photographic portraits as slides when she could not afford to have prints made or could not get access to a darkroom. Their first public appearance was in the New York clubs and bars where she worked and played. 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). She said that she 'wanted to make a point about sexual politics and male-female relations' (quoted in Nan Goldin: I'll be your Mirror, p.140). It has continued to be added to over time. In 1986 an abridged version of it was published as a book by Aperture Press. 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. Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC 1982 (Tate P78044) and Nan one month after being battered 1984 (P78045) also appear in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

Further reading:
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, New York 1986, reproduced (colour) p.21
Nan Goldin: I'll be your Mirror, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1996, reproduced (colour) p.134

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2001

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Display caption

Vivienne Dick is an Irish film-maker. She and Goldin met in New York in the 1980s and have been friends ever since. The two artists have collaborated on a number of projects. Dick’s films were a big influence on Goldin, particularly in the choice of music to accompany the slideshow.

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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