Comments/Context: It takes a certain amount of confidence to pair a life's worth of intimate photographs with the treasures of one of the world's great art museums; if the work can't hold its own, the entire enterprise has the potential to look like a shockingly self-centered and arrogant stunt. Nan Goldin's mixing of art history, life and "the love of looking" (using examples from the Louvre) walks this dangerous, thin line, but actually finds a way to tell us something unexpectedly new, not about the paintings and sculptures found in the Paris museum, but about the timeless gestures captured via Goldin's snapshot aesthetic; she uses the images from the museum to successfully reinterpret her own personal and artistic history.
The reason this show merits my highest rating is that it forced me to reappraise Goldin's photography, to see beyond the edgy bedroom scenes and the candidly intense situations and to discover the classic lines of her work. It was a way of approaching her pictures that I had never tried (it had never even occurred to me), and I was astounded by the controlled power and refinement in her compositions once I went looking for it. After seeing these juxtapositions, my impression of her many talents has been permanently altered. One might argue this is an "old wine in a new bottle" show, but there are moments of sublime finesse and subtle poetry to be found here (particularly in the video) and the chance to fundamentally transform your opinion of one of the masters of the medium doesn't come along very often.
Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here)
Nan Goldin: Scopophilia
Through December 23rd
Matthew Marks Gallery
522 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011