“Before Pictures” by Douglas Crimp— A Story of a Life

Crimp, Douglas. “Before Pictures”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

A Story of a Life

Amos Lassen

Douglas Crimp is an art critic whose work profoundly influenced a generation of artists. “Before Pictures” is the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through the 1970s. Crimp participated in all aspects of what made the city so stimulating and he weaves his professional and personal life into the history of New York City at that time. He begins with his escape from his hometown in Idaho, and we quickly find Crimp writing criticism for “ArtNews” while he worked at the Guggenheim. At Chelsea Hotel Crimp helped “the down-on-his-luck couturier Charles James” organize his papers and he was a moviegoer until the art journal “October” was founded and where he was a central figure for many years. As he was developing his reputation as a critic, he also enjoyed the New York nightlife and this included drugs and late nights with the Warhol crowd at the Max’s Kansas City to discos. He casual sex with famous (and not-so-famous) men. As AIDS began to destroy the art and gay communities, Crimp eventually turned his attention to activism dedicated himself to rethinking AIDS. He here brings together biography and cultural history to give us a courageous account of an exceptional period in both Crimp’s life and the life of New York City. At the same time, this is a deeply personal and engaging way to get into important issues in contemporary art.

The book focuses on when Crimp curated a show called “Pictures”. He was a critic who was/is interested in how the arts merge into pop culture. He has a fascinating look at the disco era and the world of ballet. His memoir hits a lot of issues including his love for Manhattan. This is important gay cultural literature that gives us an insider’s view of the arts during the 1970s and through the 1980s.

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