Throughout the course of her career, Nan Goldin has famously and frequently declared that The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary she lets people read. The piece is strongly autobiographical in character, chronicling the people and pleasures in her life, both glamorous and self-indulgent, destructive and jubilant at different times.
The Ballad Triptych is arranged in three grids of photographs and is directly derived from the foundational work, incorporating some of the most iconic images featured in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Like the slideshow, the narrative here is one of coupling and the human need for companionship. As Goldin remarked in the 1986 publication, "there is an intense need for coupling in spite of it all. Even if relationships are destructive, people cling together. Love can be an addiction. I have a strong desire to be independent, but at the same time a craving for the intensity that comes from interdependency." (N. Goldin, Ballad, New York, 1986, p. 7)
In the present work, we recognize many of the main protagonists in Goldin's life. Her childhood friend Suzanne Fletcher can be seen in a number of introspective moments. Cookie Mueller, the poet, writer, and actress, is captured on the set of Bette Gordon's Variety. The transsexual artist Greer Lankton lounges on her bed, head thrown back in rapturous delight. As Goldin wrote: "The women shown together in The Ballad offer a sense of solidarity, almost Amazonian strength, united with deep tenderness, openly tactile without self-consciousness." (Ibid., p. 7).
In a complementary fashion the central panel features many of the men in Goldin's life. In particular, Goldin's infamously abusive boyfriend, Brian, is shown in two images. "French Chris" lolls sensuously across the hood of a blue convertible, chest exposed and grasping a beer can. In another, we peer in at Mark as he starts a car, the interior a wash of red. "The solitary male is shown with his tenderness and vulnerable sexuality," Goldin has written, "but when the men are together, they become tougher." (Ibid., p. 7-8) Certainly, the men are caught in intimate and unguarded moments but there is also a melancholic toughness to the entire grid.
The final grid figuratively marries the two earlier grids. A number of the characters previously introduced now appear as couples, including an image of the artist on Brian's lap at her birthday party. Cookie Mueller reappears as a bride. Goldin even includes an image of her parents celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. In contrast to these joyful moments are those of psychic disconnect epitomized in the blurry photograph of Greer and Robert laying in bed. While their body's touch, the two look out of the frame, Robert to the right and Greer at the camera, effectively dividing the image into two poles. It suggests Goldin's claim that "men and women are irrevocable strangers." (Ibid, p. 7). Together the images function as a visual documentation of the lifecycle of a relationship.
Ultimately, The Ballad Triptych reinforces Goldin's career-long theme of the human need for companionship. For the artist, relationships are not only essential to emotional sustenance but the foundation of her artistic practice. As she wrote: "These pictures come out of relationships, not observation." (Ibid, p. 6). The Ballad Triptych poignantly distills this negotiation of selfhood and the search for interdependency and romantic connection.