July 17, 2023 – Nan Goldin’s photography is a lesson in capturing life; its raw brutality and beautiful banality. Best known for her celebrated slideshows, Goldin’s work documents humanity as a spectrum in which little is off limits. Recently, she has used her influence in art to confront power and accountability in the US opioid crisis, and is recognised in the Wallpaper* USA 300.

Addiction is a complex beast. It can masquerade as cure, ally or pleasure, but often results in pain. Artist Nan Goldin knows about addiction; she’s been inside it, witnessed it, and documented its many facets. She has also confronted its pain, those who have profited from that pain, and used her platform as a force for reckoning. Goldin first took Oxycontin (a strong opioid-based painkiller) in 2014 for tendonitis in her wrist. She had struggled with heroin addiction in the 1980s and got sober; this was different, she was hooked overnight. ‘It was the cleanest drug I’d ever met,’ she said in a now-landmark 2018 essay for Artforum, explaining how her life revolved around the painkiller: ‘Counting and recounting, crushing and snorting was my full-time job. I rarely left the house. All work, all friendships, all news took place on my bed. When I ran out of money for Oxy, I copped dope. I ended up snorting fentanyl and I overdosed.’  

In 2017, Goldin went to rehab and got sober. She began reading about the opioid overdose epidemic in the US – which, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, killed more than 500,000 Americans between 1999-2020 – and became ‘enraged’. She then came across Patrick Radden Keefe’s acclaimed New Yorker story, The Family That Built an Empire of Pain.