Unlike the violently seductive photographs of abusive love, sexual excess, and drug-induced decay for which Nan Goldin is best known, the luscious C-prints that make up "Scopophilia" are about pleasure. Commissioned by the Louvre, this exhibition juxtaposes over 400 images from the artist's thirty-year career with original photographs taken from the museum's collection, creating a sumptuous series of diptychs and grid-like arrangements.
The spontaneous gesture of Goldin's contemporary snapshot aesthetic is paired with the classical forms derived from Renaissance, Romantic, and Realist painting and sculpture. The bare breasts of Goldin's lovers and the candid expressions of her friends are mirrored in the images of Courbet and Delacroix. Though this undertaking may appear rather arrogant–Goldin's life work is being placed on a pedestal that also supports da Vinci, David, and Goya–her curatorial mixture of art history, autobiographical documentation, and scopophilia illuminates not only her love of looking, but her historical place in the world of looking.
Goldin's video installation, a twenty-five-minute slideshow that pulses with the exhibition's life force, shifts back and forth between the Louvre's masterpieces and the artist's intimate photographs. Set to a melancholic musical score and sparse commentary by Goldin herself, the video acts as a poetic visual narrative steeped in fantasy and mythology. Shrouded in darkness, we watch as images of bathing beauties and idealized youths rinse away the severity of the artist's well-documented life, leaving behind only the exquisite pairings of like forms.
Incandescent skin is closely pursued by gleaming white marble, while tender embraces echo between iconic paintings and the private moments snapped by Goldin's camera. Long, wavy hair tumbles past finely carved shoulders, pain-filed eyes stare out at us from portraits, and nudes–both male and female–lie across rumpled beds, half-full bathtubs, and wooded landscapes, while all the while shifting between classical and contemporary imagery.
Though the still photographs in the exhibition appear to act as supplementary figures to the video, their larger groupings and contact sheet-like assemblages allow us to see Goldin's themes–the gaze, youth, eroticism, hermaphroditism, and homosexuality–grouped together and at our own pace. As opposed to the video, which never deviates from its steady, methodical rhythm, the framed C-prints allow us the opportunity to wholly absorb the formal qualities inherent in Goldin's work, with allowance to forge our own connections between images. We require the visual sustenance of both, for we would be left unsatisfied, our visual hunger never fully satiated, without either–scopophilia, indeed.
Images: Swan-like Embrace, 2010; The Nap, 2010. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.