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Before Pictures

Publication supported by the Neil Harris Endowment Fund

Douglas Crimp is the rare art critic whose work profoundly influenced a generation of artists. He is best known for his work with the “Pictures Generation”—the very name of which Crimp coined to define the work of artists like Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman who appropriated images from mass culture to carry out a subversive critique. But while his influence is widely recognized, we know little about Crimp’s own formative experiences before “Pictures.”

Before Pictures tells the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through the turbulent 1970s. Crimp participated in all of what made the city so stimulating in that vibrant decade. The details of his professional and personal life are interwoven with this the particularly rich history of New York City at that time, producing a vivid portrait of both the critic and his adopted city. The book begins with his escape from his hometown in Idaho, and we quickly find Crimp writing criticism for ArtNews while working at the Guggenheim—where, as a young curatorial assistant, he was one of the few to see Daniel Buren’s Peinture-Sculpture before it was removed amid cries of institutional censorship. We also travel to the Chelsea Hotel (where Crimp helped the down-on-his-luck couturier Charles James organize his papers) through to his days as a cinephile and balletomane to the founding of the art journal October, where he remained a central figure for many years. As he was developing his reputation as a critic, he was also partaking of the New York night life, from drugs and late nights alongside the Warhol crowd at the Max’s Kansas City to discos, roller-skating, and casual sex with famous (and not-so-famous) men. As AIDS began to ravage the closely linked art and gay communities, Crimp eventually turned his attention to activism dedicated to rethinking AIDS.

Part biography and part cultural history, Before Pictures is a courageous account of an exceptional period in both Crimp’s life and the life of New York City. At the same time, it offers a deeply personal and engaging point of entry into important issues in contemporary art.

288 pages | 151 color plates | 6 x 9 1/2 | © 2016

Art: American Art, Art Criticism, Art--Biography

Gay and Lesbian Studies


"Crimp's powerful insight is the backbone of his autobiographical book, Before Pictures, which blends conversational, gossipy storytelling with an encyclopedic personal history of cultural anecdotes. . . . Under the scope of Crimp's vivid reflections, the crackling energy of the era feels fresh, as does his youthful negotiation of the queer culture and the progression of his professional career."


"Crimp’s is a memoir of looking and feeling self-conscious; seeing and being seen. Having chosen his experiences of cruising the crumbling New York of the 1970s as a structuring principle for his memoir, Crimp has written a book that is both partial in its approach and pleasurable to read."

The Burlington Magazine

"Douglas Crimp is a pivotal figure in contemporary art and AIDS cultural activism. Before Pictures fills in his back story. Using his own experiences as a primary source, he becomes a living archive, and history benefits from his erudite and compelling storytelling."

The Gay & Lesbian Review

"Douglas Crimp is an important figure in the development of postmodern art theory. . . . Crimp's writing style is fluid and holds one's attention."

New Art Examiner

"Crimp is best known today as the curator of the exhibition Pictures (1977), which helped to put postmodernism on the mp, showcasing artists such as Sherrie Levine, Jack Goldstein and Robert Longo. Before Pictures is a memoir of his ten preceding years. Graced with opulent photographs that form a close dialogue with the text, it is impressively quirky."

Times Literary Supplement

"Mourning, protest and dancing are intergenerational forms of knowledge transmission interred there; they are how we learn and relearn to be queer. This is what Douglas’s work made possible for me, and it is this future work we must continue as we mourn his loss."


Table of Contents

Front Room/Back Room
Spanish Harlem (East 98th Street) 1967–69
Way Out on a Nut
Chelsea (West 23rd Street) 1969–71
Back to the Turmoil
West Village (West 10th Street) 1971–74
Art News Parties
Hotel des Artistes

Tribeca (Chambers Street) 1974–76
Action around the Edges
Disss-co (A Fragment)

Broadway-Nassau (Nassau Street) 1976–
Pictures, Before and After


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