View of “Pictures, Before and After – An Exhibition for Douglas Crimp,” 2014.

View of “Pictures, Before and After – An Exhibition for Douglas Crimp,” 2014.

“Pictures, Before and After – An Exhibition for Douglas Crimp”

View of “Pictures, Before and After – An Exhibition for Douglas Crimp,” 2014.

At a time when influencing artists’ exposure is one of the few powers left to a writer, the artist list for an exhibition in Douglas Crimp’s honor read like a testament to his point of view. The checklist of more than thirty artists, whom Crimp has variously written about, curated into exhibitions, worked for, or befriended, placed Joseph Cornell, Marcel Broodthaers, and Agnes Martin alongside Charles James, the Cockettes, Antonio Lopez, and others. Comprising hours of video, many pages of text, and dozens of artworks, “Pictures, Before and After – An Exhibition for Douglas Crimp” was organized by Galerie Buchholz “in conversation with” Crimp himself. The show was a valuable resource for anyone interested in the art and issues that the American art historian and critic has insisted on, scrutinized, and celebrated; at the same time, it was an argument about history itself.

Giving some structure to the exhibition were excerpts from Crimp’s forthcoming memoir––sheets of A4 paper adhered to the gallery walls––chronicling his first ten years in New York. They began with his arrival in 1967 and continued up to the indispensible exhibition “Pictures,” which he curated at Artists Space in 1977. In straightforward language that finds style more in its subject matter than in its form, Crimp writes of singer Esther Phillips and the dance floor at the club 12 West, of his unpublished draft of a Moroccan cookbook and the seats he and Craig Owens preferred at the New York City Ballet, and of the intersection between artists and those cruising for sex at the piers south of the Meatpacking District. The excerpts catalogue characters, spaces, and events––sometimes intimate, always personal––that would be unlikely to find their way into any official history of that time, especially any standard art-historical account of the watershed years when the dominant discourse shifted its framework from high modernism to postmodernism.

Crimp’s habit of finding meaning in social life, based on affinities in terms of lifestyle, relates to his 2012 book about the films of Andy Warhol, the title of which quotes the artist: “Our Kind of Movie.” This was a turn of phrase and a form of association that Diedrich Diederichsen—who co-organized, with Juliane Rebentisch and Marc Siegel, the symposium that coincided with the exhibition—highlighted in his talk. A similar impulse motivated Galerie Buchholz to embark on this project in the first place,after Daniel Buchholz and gallery co-owner Christopher Müller read sections of Crimp’s manuscript, which fueled an interest in his work and a belief that his history of art is one shared by many of the gallery’s artists and by the surrounding social and intellectual community. The resulting exhibition almost surely could have only ever happened in today’s Berlin at Galerie Buchholz.

The checklist for “Pictures, Before and After” numbered more than a hundred works. But though the amount of material on display was daunting, the exhibition rewarded even a brief visit. Among the highlights were two large-scale Pictures-era works by Philip Smith, the lone artist in Crimp’s exhibition left out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2009 reappraisal; the wall of posters by Gregg Bordowitz, Gran Fury, and Fierce Pussy, among others, relating to ACT UP; and the original Louise Lawler photographs and captions that illustrated Crimp’s 1993 book On the Museum’s Ruins. It’s unfortunate that the exhibition had a limited run with no plans to travel, and that the symposium may not be followed by a publication; the business of history is such a razor-sharp gauge, whereas the stuff of history is so bulky and manifold. One of Crimp’s enduring contributions has been envisioning documents of culture that take a different approach.

John Beeson