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Nan Goldin, All the Beauty and The Bloodshed – The Art of Survival

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The iconic photographer and activist Nan Goldin is the name on everyone’s tongue, she has an exhibit at the great Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco and the Oscar-nominated documentary about her life, work, and fight against the Sackler Family and the opioid crisis “All the beauty and the bloodshed” directed by Laura Poitras (who also directed Citizenfour about Edward Snowden) premiered on HBO this past Sunday, it’s such a great portrait of what makes Nan Goldin so fierce and fearless, her work powerful and important and her activism so impactful.

A lot of time artists choose to take the safe route to protect their careers, but not Nan Goldin. Since the beginning she was called marginalized but never let herself see it this way, photography was very different around that time and several gallerists and dealers told her that there was no such thing as a good woman artist. She certainly proved them wrong!

There were many ups and downs but one thing is true, Nan has always been true to herself. She found family and inspiration in her group of friends that included John Waters, Cookie Mueller, Peter Hujar, David Wojnarowicz to name a few. Her work is always very personal and it has a huge part in telling the story of queer culture in America, in the late 80’s she curated an art show about the AIDS epidemic called “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing”. She used to photograph her friends as a way to preserve and maybe even save them, but the reality is that a lot of them died. She did not remain silent then and she’s not going to be silent now.

Cookie Mueller by Nan Goldin

Her work told the story of a time, of her friends and her own story, including a series of self-portraits with bruised eyes when her ex-boyfriend flew to Germany after her and beat her up, trying to blind her. Her courage to show this to the world empowered a lot of women. As often, her photographs show the unseen, the unspoken. It definitely exists, but not in the art world or out in the open, there was a line between these worlds and Nan broke it.

In 2017 she founded P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) a group made up of artists, activists, and people who experienced addiction to fight against the Sackler Family, whose company Purdue Pharma manufactured and fraudulently marketed OxyContin knowing it was highly addictive, they profited off people’s pain. Over 600.000 people died due to the opioid crisis in America. Nan herself got addicted after being prescribed OxyContin after surgery. She was determined to hold the Sackler Family accountable and remove their names from Museums and Institutions (which she accomplished, it started with London’s National Portrait Gallery, then The Met, Guggenheim, Louvre, British Museum, Serpentine Gallery, and others removed and/or refused money from the Sackler’s).

The actions Nan and P.A.I.N. organized to bring awareness to the opioid crisis were risky, she could have imploded her career going against such a wealthy and powerful family. But Nan was determined to bring them down. After countless protests and lawsuits, in 2020 Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy. They agreed to pay $6 billion in exchange for unprecedented civil immunity for themselves, their heirs, associates, and private trusts. The cost of the overdose crisis in the U.S. is over 1 trillion. For Nan, this is just the beginning.

Back to her current exhibit at our beloved Fraenkel Gallery, according to Nan, “it’s about images that were not intended but showed me to themselves. It’s not so relational as my other work. It’s not much about my love for people or trust, it’s about darkness. It’s about the darkness of addiction. My new retrospective is called “This will not end well”. It’s not just about addiction, it’s more, it’s a dark time. I put it together in 2019. It’s the hardest piece I ever did“.

The exhibit contains photos taken during Covid’s lockdown and “Memory Lost” a 24-minute slide show presented for the first time on the West Coast recounts the pain and fleeting moments of beauty in the life lived through the lens of addiction. “I think my work is a lot about the destigmatization of drug use. And my political work is about keeping drug users alive. I hope people cry or at least feel suffocated while watching. My intention is to replicate the feeling of withdrawal“.


Nan Goldin at Fraenkel Gallery

March 2 until April 29, 2023

49 Geary Street, 4th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108 (map)

Tuesday–Friday, 10:30am–5:30pm
Saturday, 11am–5pm



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Patricia Colli

Patricia Colli

Patricia Colli is an artist, printmaker and music enthusiast based in San Francisco. Meet me at the mosh pit!