It is a sad benchmark of these caustic times that Nan Goldin is amongst the short list of artists carried over from the enormously populist 1993 Whitney Biennial to the 'Let's throw some pastels over here' 1995 Whitney Biennial. No, of course this does not mean that Nan Goldin's work satisfies both camps of the very tired didactic/aesthete dichotomy - it means that Goldin's work is being utilised by both sectors to refute the arguments of the other. Attempting to take the pulse of this dynamic is worthwhile only because of the toothless blow job that Goldin has been receiving from the art monde and the mainstream press.
'The Ballad of Sexual Dependency' at downtown Matthew Marks is a serious attempt to remythologise the poor-white-overly-informed boho crowd. One wants to say, 'all right dear, we all live in small apartments sleeping off our heroin hangover until 4pm while our spouse gives us a couple of shiners for spending all the bill money on booze and hair colourant, we're just too damn cool to photograph it'. And when we are selecting a soundtrack for our own special blend of stoic debauchery we never ever use Nico. If, for some reason, we suffer a lapse of memory about what a cliché is or isn't, we certainly don't use All Tomorrow's Parties while showing slides of Gotscho, Jim Jarmusch, Cookie Mueller and Warhol.
So, why has Goldin endured when every other art student who produces compositions that include a syringe and a copy of the Betty Pages is routinely trounced by the powers-that-be? It is that element of danger hiding within the naïveté that produces the allure in a Goldin photograph. Goldin is like a middle-aged art student who is still fumbling with f-stops and lenses, but occasionally a gleam of brilliance jumps out of the cibachrome.
From the 'New Photographs', we find the Honda brothers in cherry blossom storm, Tokyo (1994). It is a mark of true artistry that the viewer can examine the work and feel as if the photographer and camera are engaged in a sublime pas de deux of happenstance. Unlike the Artspace book Desire by Numbers, Goldin's Japanese series doesn't want to kow-tow to a bludgeoning sense of Orientalism or sink to the murky depths of pleasure-seeking tourist. Even Chisato in bondage, Tokyo (1994) is so subtle that one is at least given the option to question whether or not one wishes to be a spectator in a zoo of otherness.
Also of note in the 'New Photographs' is a patchwork of twelve photographs unenigmatically entitled Red (1981-94/5). Goldin's meditation on the colour takes us to stately Victorian-style rooms where the richness of velvet tapestries and gilded mirrors belies an overwhelming sense of tackiness - now there's an ironic dichotomy we can cut our teeth on.