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Between 1972 and 1974, Nan Goldin shot black-and-white photographs of her friends at The Other Side, a drag bar in Boston, in her words “to pay homage” to those whose “third gender . . . made more sense than either of the other two.” Ivy with Marilyn, Boston, from this body of work, presages her subsequent groundbreaking color images in content and style. In this portrait of a person with whom the artist is personally involved, made on the scene, rather than in a studio, Ivy, a pre-op transsexual, embodies the gender ambiguity that Goldin found so liberating. Goldin frequently portrays her subjects, which include herself, in their homes or socializing in clubs and bars. Elements of the décor—such as masks or in this photograph, the Andy Warhol poster of Marilyn Monroe—often echo the belief in identity as a performance of a personal ideal, one that may be at odds with mainstream conceptions of gender.
After finishing art school in 1978, Goldin moved to New York, where she continued to photograph her friends—artists and performers, denizens of the burgeoning East Village underground. By this time she was using color film and assembling her vast archive of slides into an ever-expanding show accompanied by an evocative music track, which she presented in clubs in the early 1980s. In her influential book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986), she focused on relationships and daringly portrayed her and her friends' passionate encounters. The Ballad, which includes portraits of individuals, images of separate and mixed-gender groups, and shots of coupling, partying, and violent acting out, suggests a passage from euphoria to dysphoria and back in an endless cycle of pleasure and pain. In Trixie on the cot, NYC, the artifice of her outfit—thrift-shop party dress, heavy make-up, and doll-like hair ribbons—evokes an exaggerated femininity, a self-presentation that dovetailed with a growing mainstream questioning of gender. Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC, also from the book, hints at an inevitable discord between a heterosexual couple, but as in most of Goldin's work, their gender is mutable and fluid.
Goldin's timely subject matter subsequently serves as a loving memorial to a community ravaged by drug addiction and AIDS. Formally, her deft use of lush color, as well as her large-scale (76.2 x 101.6 cm) Cibachrome prints, made Goldin both a leader in the phenomenal expansion of color photography into contemporary art in the 1980s as well as an inspiration for other artists through the 1990s.