Nan Goldin’s photographs are celebrated artifacts of late-20th century bohemian counter-culture. They record deeply personal moments for Goldin and convey themes of love and identity in ways that are despondent and defiant, yet hopeful. Goldin became acquainted with Berlin as she shaped the debut of her classic narrative slideshow and photobook, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986).
In 1984, she premiered the work in West Berlin’s Arsenal Cinema, before touring it throughout the world. Along with New York and Paris, Goldin views Berlin as a pivotal point of return: “The best years of my life were here in Berlin… I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been looking for a home all my life. The only place I feel myself and comfortable and feel real love for my friends is Berlin.” In her photographs, Goldin extends a vision of 1980s Berlin that echoes the city’s lost past, particularly its Weimar-era reputation as an epicenter of cultural expression and sexual freedom. Though she regularly presented her work publicly, Goldin favored shooting domestic interiors and private intimacies. Her vantage almost entirely ignored the obvious shadows of the city’s division. However, her photograph taken in the bathroom of East Berlin’s Pergamon Museum in 1984 rendered the divided city as a space of interpersonal isolation and refuge. In 1991, Goldin returned to Berlin on a DAAD grant. Her collection of Berlin photographs from before and after the time of the Berlin Wall was featured in the 2010 exhibition Nan Goldin: Berlin Work at the Berlinische Galerie.