Nan Goldin: The ballad of sexual dependency

NGA-Nan-Goldin-Mark-tattooing-Mark-Boston-1978Nan Goldin is one of the world’s most influential photographers and her iconic series of 126 photographs The ballad of sexual dependency is a defining artwork of the 1980s. The National Gallery recently acquired the last, complete edition of this cornerstone work, which is currently on display at the Gallery until 28 January 2024.

Decades in the making, Goldin’s extended photographic study of her chosen family – her ‘tribe’ – is a deeply moving portrayal of life in the 1970s and 1980s, as the artist and her loved ones navigate a time of unrelenting energy and extremes.

National Gallery Curator of Photography Anne O’Hehir said Goldin’s rich and evocative series explores themes of sexual identity, community, and love and loss against the backdrop of New York City and has shaped a generation who’ve fallen in love with the unvarnished intimacy of her storytelling.

“Goldin takes photographs to connect, to keep the people she loves in her memory. She is committed to the idea that photography can faithfully record a time and place and do so in a way that has real social purpose,” said O’Hehir.

“Using a documentary, snapshot style, she lays bare her life in the manner of a family album. We see her alongside her friends and lovers as they live their lives – hanging out, falling in and out of love, having children. But this is a community that would soon be decimated by HIV/AIDS and drug-related deaths.”

“The ballad of sexual dependency has become as much a testament to how much Goldin and her community have lost, as it is a record of the look and feel of a past time,” said O’Hehir.

O’Hehir said this engaged and at times moving series urges you to empathise with stories and experiences that are rarely depicted.

“Goldin is committed to making public that which is usually hidden and private, and to the truthful recording of her life,” said O’Hehir.

Goldin refers to The ballad of sexual dependency as her ‘public diary’, stating that her photographs ‘come out of relationships, not observation’. The work’s overriding themes, she has stated, are those of love and empathy and the tension between autonomy and interdependence in relationships – relationships in which all genders struggle to find a common language.

The ballad of sexual dependency began its life as a slideshow presented by Goldin at parties and in clubs and bars in New York City’s downtown art scene. The slide show was then distilled to a series of 126 photographs, which are now part of the national collection.

“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

This exhibition is part of the National Gallery of Australia’s 40th Anniversary celebrations and continues the Know My Name gender equity initiative.

Nan Goldin: The ballad of sexual dependency
National Gallery of Australia, Parkes Place East, Parkes (Canberra)
Exhibition continues to 28 January 2024
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Nan Goldin, Mark tattooing Mark, Boston, 1978 from the series The ballad of sexual dependency, 1973-86, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, purchased 2021 in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia’s 40th anniversary, 2022 © Nan Goldin