Nan Goldin joined Instagram in December, and one of her first photos was Kathleen White, her late friend who died in 2014 after battling cancer. White became Goldin’s muse of sorts through the ‘90s when Goldin would photograph White throughout a tumultuous time, a time of highs and extreme lows, while many of their friends were dying of AIDS.
Goldin curated an exhibit at Artists Space called Shy, featuring works by friends who were her photographic subjects and artists, as well. White’s installation Spirits of Manhattan (1996) was a prominent piece from the show and made primarily of human hair — more specifically, the hair of drag performers who were dying of AIDS and had no one to claim their possessions, including their wigs.
Hair became a main feature of White’s work, with performer friends like Lady Bunny, David Dalrymple and Jojo Americo contributing their wigs. These wigs and other hair pieces make up the essence of White’s exhibit at Pioneer Works, Kathleen White: Spirits of Manhattan. Goldin’s Kathleen is also being held at the same time, and both shows are in conjunction with White’s work at Martos Gallery.
As Dazed noted, friendship was a defining theme in White’s art with “My Friend” being the name of her first completed work after moving to New York in 1987. Both exhibitions are a tribute to friendship; Goldin’s is a tribute to White and her legacy, and White’s exhibition is a memorial to the friends who passed away before her. The hair is an unusual bond that unites them all.