Critics’ Picks

View of “Scopophilia,” 2011.

View of “Scopophilia,” 2011.

New York

Nan Goldin

Matthew Marks Gallery | 522 West 22nd Street
522 West 22nd Street
October 29–December 23, 2011

“Scopophilia,” a term borrowed from the psychoanalytic set to denote a desire rooted in observation, is a fitting title for an exhibition by an artist well known for her voyeuristic proclivities: Nan Goldin’s latest show is a penetrating, self-critical look at a career spent depicting others. Blending photographs from her archives with a series of studies commissioned last year by the Louvre, the exhibition evinces her complicity in the act of voyeurism and her acknowledgment of its persistence throughout the Western art-historical canon.

Central to the show, Scopophilia, 2010, a twenty-five-minute slide installation, pairs portraits spanning the artist’s career with others made by old masters. Employing her favored format, Goldin has her intimate circle share the screen with a cast of art history’s more amatory luminaries (Narcissus, Psyche, Pygmalion), in alternating vérité and fantastical depictions that amount to a collective meditation on the exchange between desire and visuality. Among other works in the exhibition, seven grids of photographs are grouped in themes that recall Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, 1928–29, a constellation of images concerned with the recurring “iconology of the interval” in Western art. Among Goldin’s grids, Hair, 2010, weaves within a fascination of feminine tresses the strands of purity and seduction, while in Crazy Scary, 2011, traces of the divine are to be observed within the touch of the mortal.

Elsewhere in the gallery, a group of portraits from Goldin’s archives are mounted along the walls of a curved room, each crowned by a Louvre portrait showing a similar physiognomic expression. Creating an architectural analogon to the corneal arc, Goldin foregrounds the peripatetic eye by drawing attention to our visual processes, confronting our scanning of the images in the returned uniformity of the portraits’ collective gaze. Ultimately, whether holding the mirror to the artist or her subjects, Goldin’s work becomes less about the depiction of others than about the reflection of ourselves.