The hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York would seem an unlikely setting for “The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984”: an exhibition of artistic insurgents who dissected the images and words of the mass media with cutting ken. Here the past is far from settled, and while many figures represented in the show have already secured a place in the history books, group hagiography is hardly easy among practices so diverse and ongoing. Yet even if the works defy rigid, canonical terms, this first group retrospective still gave us an astonishing corpus—allowing an era’s real complexity to surface and then be amplified in critical debate. Artforum asked art historians MICHAEL LOBEL and HOWARD SINGERMAN to reflect on the show’s picturing of a moment that holds great sway over our own.

View of “The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984,” 2009, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

ONE OF THE MORE CURIOUS SEQUELAE of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s staging of “The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984,” curated by Douglas Eklund, was the controversy surrounding the exclusion of Philip Smith from the show. Smith is one of five artists—the others were Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Longo—whose work Douglas Crimp had included in the 1977 show at Artists Space in New York titled “Pictures.” The event gave this group its name, in part, and has since been mythologized as a pivotal moment in postwar art. While those other four artists were represented by pieces in the Met show, Smith was not—and he merited only one mention in the catalogue, with no complementary reproduction of his work. In response, Crimp and other critics, including Barry Schwabsky in The Nation and Holland Cotter in the New York Times, raised the

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