Collection Artwork
Nan Goldin (born Washington, DC, 1953)
Nan and Brian in bed, New York City 1983 [from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency]
Cibachrome print
paper size: 11 x 14 in.
image size: 9 1/8 x 13 1/2 in.
The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum
photographed in New York, New York, United States, North America

Object Label

“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost.”
—Nan Goldin

Eager to record everyday moments through her camera lens, Nan Goldin created a visual diary of her and her friends experiencing love, sex, abuse, addiction, pain, joy, and illness. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Goldin lived and traveled a bohemian life in and out of Boston, New York, Provincetown, Berlin, Mexico City, London, and elsewhere.

The photographs’ saturated color and snapshot quality makes them feel at once intimate and truthful yet also romantic, sometimes even otherworldly. But the people and their stories are unstaged and fraught with contradiction. Cookie Mueller is shown seemingly alone at a bar, at her wedding to Vittorio Scarpati, and with her son, Max. She sold cocaine and used heroin, opium, and other drugs; she was a wife, a mother, an actress, a writer, bisexual. Cookie and Vittorio would both die in 1989 from AIDS-related causes. Greer Lankton died of a drug overdose in 1996. Nan survived; so did Suzanne. These words, like the photographs, are mere glimpses.

From the exhibition: Beauty and Bite (July 20, 2019 – January 19, 2020)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog

Loneliness is a quiet, invasive companion. It settles in the morning like dew on the grass and overstays its welcome.

If it was a color, it might be a dull yellow. Not like honey or a sunrise but a sad, ugly citrine. Sour. The kind of yellow you would never put on your wall.

The awful thing about loneliness is that it is inherent to the human condition. Ubiquitous, it’s a malady we must learn to live with. It plagues us, day and night—though especially at night—and we spend each moment quenched and sick, searching for a remedy we’ll never truly find.

Loneliness begins in childhood: sitting alone on the bus, not being chosen during a game, hoping for an invitation to a birthday party. It fuels competition and gives way to a hungry desperation, a desire to be admired, envied, wanted. As we get older we learn to cope with its persistent presence. We know to grab onto those around us before others get the chance. We rendezvous with romantic partners in frantic hope of permanently gluing ourselves to someone else, finally curing our longstanding problem, allowing ourselves to be understood, and seen.

Because that is loneliness’ inverse, the solution that we are in constant, trivial pursuit of: being seen. A photograph allows its subject to be seen, to some degree. Reading gives you a glimmer of insight into the author. Looking into someone’s eyes, too, gives you a piece of their puzzle.

But can this really cure us of our ailment? Can we truly rid ourselves of the bitter pit that burrows into our cores like a leeching parasite? At night, we laugh and shine and watch each other dance, intoxicated with the idea of knowing and being known. But in the mornings we wake in a cold bed, bathed in flat yellow, together—but always utterly alone.

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