Nan Goldin: still controversial

Bisexual artist Nan Goldin is known for other things than being part of the inspiration for Ally Sheedy’s character in High Art. She happens to be famous for her portraits of her one-time lover Siobahn and her group of gay friends, that included cross dressers, AIDS victims, and junkies. Some have hailed her as the originator of “heroin chic”–Kate Moss just ripped her off. 

Her heyday was in the 1980s (you know, when heroin was all the rage), so besides the “High Art” throwback to her hipster-esque lifestyle, all has been quiet on the Goldin front–until recently. One of her photos (titled “Klara and Edda belly-dancing” ) was seized from its placement at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art for possibly violating child pornography laws.  Oddly enough, the photo is owned by Sir Elton John, and he lent it for use in the exhibit. It depicts two elementary-aged girls, one naked with her legs spread apart. It appears that she is playing around with her friend, who stands above her in scarves wrapped around her body in a costume-like fashion.

Sir John gave a brief but standoffish statement that the photo “has been offered for sale at Sotheby’s New York in 2002 and 2004, and has previously been exhibited in Houston, London, Madrid, New York, Portugal, Warsaw and Zurich without any objections of which we are aware.” Loosely translated into, “You just now have a problem with this?”

The image is sure to make some people feel uncomfortable, but knowing Nan and her signature button pushing, that’s exactly what she wanted, and why she’s so well known. She didn’t take photos of her broken face after a domestic dispute or explicit sexual situations to make people feel content, that’s for sure, and her carefree nature (much like visionary Diane Arbus’) has inspired an entire new generation of modern photography (see the debauchery captured by Cobrasnake and Last Night’s Party). 

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