Nan Goldin – This will not end well

This Will Not End Well is the first exhibition to provide a comprehensive insight into artist Nan Goldin’s work as a filmmaker. The retrospective is being shown at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, a museum of modern and contemporary art in the Netherlands.

Nan Goldin, Brian and Nan in Kimono, 1983. © Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin’s artistic inquiry; the truth of life as it presents itself

This Will Not End Well comprises six pavilions which were designed by Hala Wardé, the architect Nan Goldin often works with. Wardé designed each pavilion in close consultation with Goldin, always using the specific work as a starting point. In each pavilion there is a slideshow of hundreds of photographs, edited and re-edited over the years, and there is additional music to support the narrative that is shown.

In a previous article  on our website we elaborated on Goldin’s biographical film All The Beauty And The Bloodshed (2022). In this article Jeannet van de Kamp mentioned that “Nan Goldin records flashes of reality using her 35 mm camera: the urgency, the truth of life as it presents itself, not fictionalized, not ‘performed’, penetrating into the bottom of existence together with other survivors”. The biopic has two alternating storylines, on the one hand about her own life and on the other hand about her as a celebrated artist and activist, who is willing to put her own position on the line, for example with her recent advocacy group P.A.I.N.

Nan Goldin, Nikki in a box, n.d. © Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin is as an artist best known for her photography, but her artist practice began around 1980 presenting eclectic slideshows of hundreds of photographs to live audiences in clubs and underground movie theaters. She updated her slideshows every time, edited them again and again and used multiple projectors. These ever-changing slideshows formed the foundation of her artistic practice.

At the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam she returns to her origins and presents slideshows. This exhibition consists of six series: The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency (1981-2022), Goldin’s magnum opus; The Other Side (1992-2021), an historical portrait and a tribute to her trans friends whom she photographed between 1972 and 2010; Sisters, Saints and Sibyls (2004-2022), a testament to family trauma after suicide; Fire Leap (2010-2022), an inside look at the world of children; Sirens (2019-2020), about the ecstasy of drug abuse; and Memory Lost (2019-2021), about the claustrophobic journey of drug withdrawal.

An elephant mask, just a simple mask?

As a visitor I look closely at the series, and I notice that several pictures are used in multiple series. One image catches my eye: The Elephant Mask (Goldin, 1985). In itself it already makes for a surrealistic presentation and  this makes me wonder. What is the meaning of this individual photograph, when in all of her photographs she either makes self-portraits or mostly portraits of the people around her, in close-up or blurred motion?

Sometimes Goldin makes shots of nature or the interior to capture the scenery, but always the truth of life as it presents itself. For example, what is the significance of this photograph in the context of the Fire Leap series, which captures the world of children’s joy, wildness and freedom? And how does this photograph for example relate to a totally different context, The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency, an intimate series about love and loss?

Nan Goldin, Elephant mask, Boston, 1985. © Nan Goldin

It makes me wonder, in this raw and honest story from the point of view of the artist herself, what does it mean to see an elephant mask? Is it just a simple mask to cover a face, which is worn as a disguise, or to amuse or frighten? Is it just an object you can buy in the nearest party store? Or does it have a political meaning and does this image in its specific composition give an insight into what it means to endure life? Or even an insight into an everyday nature of survival, when dealing with family trauma after suicide, her community decimated by HIV and a recurring drug addiction?

Goldin’s series pursue no aesthetic outcome, her artistic inquiry is not about whether something is beautiful or ugly. Her work is breathtaking in getting to the bottom of existence, not an enchanting romance but raw realism. Something which only the Arts can show and that words alone cannot tell.

Nan Goldin, Self-portrait with eyes turned inward, Boston, 1989.
© Nan Goldin

About the exhibition This Will Not End Well

The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is the first museum to receive This Will Not End Well from organizer Moderna Museet in Stockholm as part of the international tour of the exhibition. It lasts from October 8th till January 28th 2024. Afterwards it will be shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (October 2024–March 2025), the Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan (October 2025 – February 2026) and the Grand Palais in Paris (March – September 2026).

Photograph feature image: Nan Goldin, Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC, 1991. © Nan Goldin

About the author: Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg (1987) graduated as a master in Ethics of Care and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht (NL) in 2015. She currently holds the double position of ethical consultant, and policy advisor in the Centre on the Quality of Life and Survivorship, at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital in Amsterdam (NL). This centre accommodates the physical/psychosocial, supportive and survivorship care for cancer patients. As a sociotherapist she worked in direct contact with patients in psychiatric clinics. Her previous experience at TAAK brought her in contact with visual artists and care institutions to whom she provided an ethics of care perspective during research and project development for the programme “Art & Care”.

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