For eight months in 2010, Nan Goldin had the Louvre all to herself every Tuesday on the day the museum is closed to the public. Free to wander its grand galleries with permission to take photographs, she pointed her camera towards the French national museum’s treasures from antiquity and masterpieces of French art. The Louvre found a kindred spirit in Goldin, whose work—a life filled with friends, lovers, emotionally raw experiences and intimate encounters documented through the medium of photography—considers similar themes to artworks found in the museum’s collection. Love, lust, romance, ecstasy, sex, longing, loss, loneliness, heartbreak, violence and despair are all human conditions that cross centuries of time.
The intimacy of her encounter with the work of art is communicated in Goldin’s photographs and heightened when paired with a carefully-curated selection of photographs from the artist’s life’s work from the late 1970s through the present. For Odalisque, the artist focused on the subject that has graced many paintings in the history of French art: the odalisque. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s The Grand Odalisque, 1814, is presented three times in Goldin’s work, each photograph slightly different indicating that the artist visited the iconic painting several different times. Ingres’s odalisque finds companions in contemporary photographs of Goldin’s friends, stretched across beds in Lower East Side apartments, reclining in bathtubs, submersed in their thoughts or addressing the camera directly with their eyes. Indeed, Goldin approached the famous paintings and sculptures in the Louvre’s collection, not as representations, but as friends. As such, when paired with images of the artist’s oeuvre, Goldin updates the historic pose with contemporary figures and spaces. Goldin chose the word Scopophilia, meaning “the love of looking,” often times in a voyeuristic or fetishistic manner, as the title for the exhibition of the works she made at the Louvre when they premiered there, before traveling to New York in 2011 and Rome in 2014, conflating the acts of looking at art and looking through a camera with the act of love that accompanies looking at a friend.