Douglas Crimp: Before Pictures

Copublished with University of Chicago Press in 2016
Edited by Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroeder
Design by Joseph Logan
308 pages, 150 images, hardcover with jacket, 6 x 9 ½ inches
Includes a photo series by Zoe Leonard
ISBN-13: 978-0-2264234-5-6


Douglas Crimp 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. But while his influence is widely recognized, we know little about Crimp’s own formative experiences before 1977, when he organized the exhibition Pictures. Before Pictures tells the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City from 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 the particularly rich history of New York at that time, producing a vivid portrait of both the critic and his adopted city. Part autobiography 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. At the same time, it offers a deeply personal and engaging point of entry into important issues in contemporary art.

Praise and Press

Crimp is best known today as curator of the exhibition “Pictures” (1977), which helped to put postmodernism on the map, 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.

—Fernanda Eberstadt, Times Literary Supplement

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

It starts like a classic bildungsroman from the mighty island-city: It’s 1967, and a young writer from a beautiful, bigoted town called Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, escapes to Manhattan to find himself. A decade later, he’s made his mark: It’s called “Pictures,” and it alters the course of art and its discourses.

What makes Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures so remarkable is not just its subject—the art historian and AIDS activist’s early years leading up to the epoch-defining 1977 exhibition at Artists Space and the pair of titular essays that were so critical to its historicization. It’s not just the casual meet-cutes at John Ashbery parties and the formative encounters with Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly and Charles James and Daniel Buren; the early, incisive formalist writings whose frissons eventually inspired one of the great innovations in late-twentieth-century criticism: the recognition of a breach, which Crimp labels postmodernism, in modernist parables of art and theatricality. It’s how the story is told.

Before Pictures is a strange and shimmering chimera: Part memoir, part theory, it swerves and circles, often paragraph to paragraph, from anecdote to argument and back again, a graceful, unfussy waltz that sometimes seduces you into thinking that it’s “simply” autobiography. But the writing is also a performance of the necessary entanglement between serious thought and its “decor”—an entanglement that fascinates Crimp, and that makes him such an exceptional protagonist.

—David Velasco, Artforum

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.

—Rebecca Rafferty, Afterimage

Please follow us on social media if you are interested in hearing more about our projects, or email us.

Sign Up for Our Mailing List

    Dancing Foxes Press16 Lefferts PlaceBrooklyn, NY 11238

    Privacy Preference Center