Issue 34 November 2023

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Issue 30 November 2022

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Issue 26 November 2021

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Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

at POTTS
–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
at LADIES’ ROOM
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
at SMART OBJECTS
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
at NAVEL
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
at LAXART
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
at MOCA PDC
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Reviews
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects

Home
at LACMA

Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
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Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Generous
Structures
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

Ma
at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
at LACMA
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

Mertzbau
at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Non-Fiction
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
at REDCAT
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Reconsidering
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
at LACMA
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room
at LACMA

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
F.B.I.
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
and LOUDHAILER
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
at ASHES/ASHES
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Issue 2 November 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
MEAT PHYSICS/
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
SOGTFO
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
@barnettcohen
Mateo Tannatt
Photographs
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe
at LACMA

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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The Ache of Rebellion:
Nan Goldin’s Chosen Family

Leer en Español

Nan Goldin, This Will Not End Well (installation view) (2022). Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2022. Exhibition Architecture designed in collaboration with Hala Wardé. Image courtesy of the artist and Moderna Museet. Photo: Åsa Lundén.

At the beginning of Laura Poitras’ Oscar-nominated documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), a disruption unfolds. Nan Goldin, along with fellow activists from the advocacy group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN), prepare for a protest—their first—at the Sackler Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Flush with anticipatory energy, the group gathers outside the museum before converging in the cavernous gallery that houses the epochal Temple of Dendur, an appropriately momentous setting for their unauthorized action. This gallery was one of seven in the museum that, at the time of this demonstration (2018), bore the name of the Sackler family, notorious heirs to the unscrupulous empire of OxyContin. As unearthed in a 2017 New Yorker article (the revelatory contents of which partially inspired Goldin to found PAIN the same year),1 the origins of the opioid epidemic can be directly traced to the sinister marketing campaign put forth by the family’s company, Purdue Pharma, which falsely claimed that the drug was safe; the Sacklers subsequently raked in billions of dollars from sales of the highly-addictive opiate.2 Much of the Sacklers’ drug money has been philanthropically funneled into the coffers of various cultural institutions, including The Met—hence the fierce presence of Goldin and her companions on this brisk day in March 2018.3

After the group cautiously assembles around the shimmering reflecting pool at the foot of the temple, they begin to abruptly disrupt the gallery’s quotidian decorum: Chants echo, banners unfurl, and dozens of prescription bottles emblazoned with the Sackler name launch into the air. The protesters’ bodies then slump to the ground in a coordinated die-in, their inert forms mirroring the overturned pill bottles that now float along the surface of the pool. For a moment, the scene of this raucous intervention, which occurs at a monument primarily dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, reads as an offering, or perhaps a sacrifice. As an act of dissent in a museological setting, it both acknowledges the Temple of Dendur’s archeological underpinnings as a traditional site for performing offerings and, more crucially, eulogizes the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been forsaken at the altar of Big Pharma. And although not a performance per se, PAIN’s collective action activates the gallery in a manner achieved by only the best performances: It interrupts and transforms the space, reframing its formal contours as a dynamic stage for collective interference.

On the surface, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed traces a detailed narrative arc of Goldin’s anti-Sackler activism, with Poitras, a lauded filmmaker and documentarian, largely functioning as an unseen auteur, quietly bearing witness to the artist’s unflinching, memoir-esque narration. The meat of the film, however, ultimately documents an interwoven tale of several families: the Sacklers, defined by their perverse privilege and incessant greed; Goldin’s biological family, marred by intergenerational trauma and the aftermath of her older sister’s teenage suicide; and the artist’s “chosen family,” the trusted network of friends, artists, and activists that has occupied the center of her artistic practice for the past several decades. The trajectories of these familial entanglements, which Poitras centers in the film, suggest that the wounds wrought by household traumas eventually hemorrhage outwards, spilling into the cistern of society as a whole, irrevocably shaping it. Goldin’s work and activism posit the power of one’s chosen family as an antidote, using a model of collective care to staunch the bleed.

A family is often thought of as a microcosm of the surrounding world, enacting, on an intimate scale, the mores of society at large. The idyllic mirage of the nuclear family has been so culturally enduring for precisely this reason: The mythology of the perfect family unit reflects kindly on the larger American project of heteronormative conformity. However, it goes without saying that a family, like society, evades monolithic characterizations. If we could trace both the brutality and the tenderness of our collective social body back to its hypothetical origin points, we would most likely find ourselves tangled in the threads of private family dynamics.

Goldin has often spoken of her own family experience as the inception point for her work in photography. In the 1996 introduction to her book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (first published in 1986)—which culls images from her ever-evolving, landmark photographic slideshow of the same name (1981–2022)—Goldin discloses that in 1965, when she was 11, her older sister Barbara committed suicide at the age of 18.4 As she recounts in Poitras’ film, the two had a particularly close bond, with Barbara functioning as the nurturing older sister who offered a panacea for the maternal care largely withheld by their mother. Despite her sporadic adoption of conventional motherly behaviors, Barbara spurned conformity: She didn’t adhere to stringent heterosexual expectations, nor did she fully mime what Goldin refers to as the oppressive “limitations of gender distinction”5 that American heteronormative culture forces upon children. As a result, her parents declared her mentally ill and had her forcibly institutionalized, subjecting her to a horrific array of dehumanizing treatments. “By the time she was eighteen,” Goldin writes, “she saw that her only way to get out was to lie down on the tracks of the commuter train outside of Washington D.C. It was an act of immense will.”6 Exacerbating this excruciating tragedy, Barbara’s psychiatrist declared that Goldin would likely meet the same fate. “I lived in fear that I would die at eighteen. I knew it was necessary for me to leave home, so at fourteen I ran away.”7

Nan Goldin holding hands with her sister Barbara (c. 1950s). Image courtesy of NEON.

Goldin has since reflected that when she picked up the camera for the first time at the serendipitous age of 18 and intuitively turned her lens toward her friends (her newfound surrogate family), the gesture was partly an attempt to recapture the tangible memory of her late sister. “I don’t ever want to be susceptible to anyone else’s version of my history,” Goldin muses in The Ballad. “I don’t ever want to lose the real memory of anyone again.”8 Much has been written about Goldin’s empathic eye and her searing ability to apprehend, in ways both dark and tender, the beauty and the humanity of her subjects, many of whom share the ache of rebellion that Goldin once observed in her sister. The authentic, deeply intimate relationships that Goldin shares with her subjects—a relationship that critic Peter Schjeldahl aptly referred to as “symbiotic”9—lends her the ability to transcend the sense of voyeuristic removal that often severs a photographer from her subject. (Literary theorist Ann Banfield suggests that a photograph can have the effect of “conjuring away” the presence of the photographer, leaving a voided space of absence, contingency, and elimination akin to death.10) Goldin’s camera doesn’t function as an apparatus of mediation as much as it does a corporeal instrument integral to her raw, lived experience—an object as vital and life-affirming as an eye or bodily appendage. “The camera,” she writes in The Ballad, “is as much a part of my everyday life as talking or eating or sex.”11 Indeed, her most renowned photographs recount moments—variously dramatic, mundane, and always at the margins—of living, dying, suffering, grieving, healing, and the multitude of experiences that exist in between.

Goldin’s presentation of her photographs has always underscored the images’ vitality. Beginning in 1979, the artist organized her negatives into slideshows, which she presented to audiences that included the friends and lovers depicted therein. These presentations proceeded vociferously: Viewers rollicked and clamored in reaction to recognizing themselves, and Goldin would often remove images disapproved of by their subjects. As such, these happenings proved inherently mercurial, as the contents of the slideshows continually morphed and shifted over time.12 Perhaps most importantly, Goldin’s collaborative actions eschew the preciousness of any individual image and in turn dispel the notion of the artist as a singular genius, revealing instead a deep vein of generosity that lends itself to mutual vulnerability—and perhaps mutual healing.

The mutability of these effervescent, provocative, and at times harrowing photographs of the artist’s chosen family both reject and redefine the vernacular notion of family pictures (and the attendant traumas often enclosed within). In his profoundly poetic book Ghost Image (1982), the late French writer and photographer Hervé Guibert frequently speaks of family photographs as fundamentally static images that “remain in their little cardboard coffins where we forget them; like crosses planted in the ground.”13 These dormant forms, he posits, represent mummified instances wherein the body remains immutable and inextricably tethered to the family unit. Perhaps most crucially, Guibert asserts that “this history exists parallel to that of memory,”14 suggesting that the seemingly stable family photograph depicts an idealized construction, an often-fabricated narrative of conviviality and unity. In Poitras’ film, Goldin also speaks of this disjunction between visceral and narrativized memory, the former of which embeds itself in the body, calcifying into physical and metaphysical scars that remain “dirty” and unsafe.15

In her more recent work Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls (2004), a three-channel video interspersed with still photographs, Goldin intentionally dredges up these memories, delving into the precarious psychological territory of her sister’s institutionalization and subsequent suicide, as well as her own hospitalization for opioid addiction following a near-fatal overdose in 2017 (an experience that acted as another catalyst for her creation of P.A.I.N.).16 In the piece, Goldin repudiates the notion of a sanitized remembrance by pairing material recovered from her sister’s extensive medical records with various family photographs from childhood, juxtaposing murky truths with chaste, staged representations. (The title of Poitras’ film stems from this material—medical records note that, in response to a Rorschach test, Goldin’s sister poetically observed that the inky pattern contained “all the beauty and the bloodshed.”)17 Elsewhere in Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls, Goldin compares her sister’s fate to that of Saint Barbara, a third-century Christian martyr who rebelled against—and was eventually beheaded by—her domineering father. These twin martyrdoms speak to the perilous nature of a traditional family’s patriarchal architecture, particularly for the disempowered who remain fettered to its structure.

The concept of a chosen family disavows the hierarchical power dynamics of a heteronormative one. In The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Goldin explicitly asserts as much, writing: “This is the history of a re-created family, without the traditional roles.… We are not bonded by blood or place, but by a similar morality,” an assessment Goldin reiterates in Poitras’ film with regard to PAIN.18 She also poignantly asserts that her sister would have survived had she been allowed to cultivate her own chosen family—a notion of kinship that speaks to the urgency of mutual care as a form of protection in an increasingly hostile heteronormative society. This sentiment registers with particular gravity today. Directly modeled after ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the ’80s-era activist group that combated the AIDS epidemic through coordinated public provocations, PAIN is predicated on the notion of mutual care and the rejection of silent acquiescence to the status quo. Indeed, Goldin bears intimate scars from the AIDS crisis, which mercilessly obliterated a generation of radical artists and thinkers, many of whom she depicts in The Ballad. The anguished loss of her initial chosen family to a brutal public health crisis has undoubtedly fortified her crusade against those responsible for perpetuating addiction, another stigmatized disease. Thus, PAIN’s improbable success in forcing many of our most prominent cultural institutions to reject Sackler funding and scrub their names from gallery walls only reiterates the formative, redemptive potential of their steadfast communal bond—and the curative power of chosen family bonds in general.

Later in the film, Goldin and her fellow activists descend on the Guggenheim, formerly home to the Sackler Center for Arts Education. In a cogent and aesthetically commanding act of dissent, the group occupies each level of the museum’s coiled rotunda; blood-red banners unfurl and a lethal blizzard of prescription slips flutters in the air.19 This time, casual museum-goers amplify the group’s chants. The beauty of these fervent, well-orchestrated actions is that they have proven to be more strikingly effective in achieving their aims than the justice system itself. The Sacklers have completely evaded criminal liability for their behavior, declaring corporate bankruptcy—after siphoning $10.4 billion out of the company—to shield themselves from personal civic litigation.20 In a climactic crescendo, Poitras’ film includes footage of one of the bankruptcy hearings (a virtual session from March 2022), during which Theresa, Richard, and David Sackler were obligated to behold victims’ impact statements—including a fiery statement by Goldin, who grasps a fellow activist’s hand as she intently speaks truth to power.21 Here, as the Sacklers bear involuntary witness to the intimate brutality of their greed, we finally perceive their faces, and their veil of corporate obscurity momentarily crumbles.

The film ends where it began, in front of The Met’s commanding Temple of Dendur, with the surrounding galleries now, four years later, void of the Sackler name. The PAIN members congregate in quiet celebration; Goldin partakes in the festivities while, naturally, taking photographs, appearing partially stunned by their collective ascendence over a goliath.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 32.

Image courtesy of The New York Times and Redux. Photo: George Etheredge.

Nan Goldin, Self portrait with scratched back after sex, London (1978). Image courtesy of the artist.

Nan Goldin in the bathroom with roommate, Boston (c. 1970s). Image courtesy of NEON.

Protest at the Louvre, Paris, France. Image courtesy of PAIN.

  1. Nan Goldin, Artforum, January 2018, https://www.artforum.com/print/201801/nan-goldin-73181.
  2. Patrick Radden Keefe, “The Family that Built an Empire of Pain,” The New Yorker, October 23, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-family-that-built-an-empire-of-pain.
  3. Colin Moynihan, “Opioid Protest at Met Museum Targets Donors Connected to OxyContin,” The New York Times, March 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/us/met-museum-sackler-protest.html.
  4. Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, eds. Marvin Heiferman, Mark Holborn, and Suzanne Fletcher (New York: Aperture Foundation, 1996), http://www.americansuburbx.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/nan-goldin-ballad-of-sexual-dependency.pdf, 4.
  5. Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 3.
  6. Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 4.
  7. Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 5.
  8. Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 5.
  9. Peter Schjeldahl, “Adolescents,” Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1988–2018 (New York: Abrams, 2020), 126.
  10. As quoted by Margaret Iversen in Photography, Trace, and Trauma (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 5.
  11. Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1.
  12. Laura Poitras, director, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Participant; Praxis Films: 2022), 122 minutes, 55:10.
  13. Hervé Guibert, Ghost Image (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 27.
  14. Guibert, Ghost Image, 34.
  15. Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, 4:15.
  16. Nan Goldin, Artforum.
  17. Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, 60:47.
  18. Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1.
  19. Colin Moynihan, “Guggenheim Targeted by Protesters for Accepting Money From Family With OxyContin Ties,” The New York Times, February 9, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/09/arts/protesters-guggenheim-sackler.html.
  20. Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, 60:35.
  21. “What opioid victims told Sacklers when they got the chance,” The Associated Press, March 10, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/opioid-victims-statements-to-sacklers-9d7e7e6031779c1522c8734aa567b6e8.

Jessica Simmons-Reid (MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; BA, Brown University) is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. She’s interested in the interstitial space between the language of abstraction and the abstraction of language, as well as the intermingling of poetry and politics. She has contributed essays and reviews to Carla and Artforum, among others.

More by Jessica Simmons-Reid