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Douglas Crimp (1944–2019)

NEW YORKDouglas Crimp—the art historian, critic, and curator who generated some of the most enduring, foundational texts on postmodern art, queer theory, and institutional critique, and whose later writings on dance galvanized the field and synthesized histories of ballet, modern dance, and postmodern performance—died of multiple myeloma early Friday morning in Manhattan. He was seventy-four years old.

Crimp’s earliest attention arrived from his 1977 exhibition “Pictures,” a tiny yet epochal show at Artists Space. The show and, perhaps more significantly, the revised version of the catalogue essay that he published in the spring 1979 issue of October snapped into focus the attitude of a generation of artists who had grown up with, and who sought critical distance from, a new era of mass-media American image culture: Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Philip Smith, Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Robert Longo, Laurie Anderson, and Louise Lawler among them. In 2009, the Metropolitan Museum of Art used the show as a touchstone for its expanded exhibition “The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984.” His 2016 book Before Pictures, a heady mix of memoir and theory in the 1960s and ’70s, captures some of the lived moments leading up to the show.

Born August 19, 1944 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Crimp studied art history at Tulane University in New Orleans before moving to New York, where he briefly took a job as a curatorial assistant at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and began reviewing exhibitions for Artnews and Art International. In the early ’70s, Crimp began taking graduate courses at the City University of New York, where he studied under Rosalind Krauss, who soon added him to the masthead of the then-young journal October as managing editor, then coeditor—a role he held until 1990, when Crimp resigned over the other editors’ refusal to publish two of six papers from the Anthology Film Archives conference “How Do I Look?” In 2010, with Lynne Cooke he curated his second exhibition, “Mixed Use, Manhattan,” at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. At the time of his death, Crimp was the Fanny Knapp Allen professor of art history and professor of visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester.

In 1987, Crimp, a member of the AIDS activist collective ACT UP, edited a special issue of October, in which he crusaded for art “actively participating in the struggle against AIDS and its cultural consequences.” Much of his work on AIDS can be found in Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics (2002), as well as the 1990 chapbook, with Adam Rolston, AIDS Demo Graphics. Some of his writing on institutional critique was compiled in On the Museum’s Ruins (1993), which also functioned as his Ph.D. dissertation. In 2012, Crimp published Our Kind of Movie: The Films of Andy Warhol. A collection of his dance writings is being organized with Dancing Foxes Press.

Read more about and from Douglas Crimp in our archives:

Douglas Crimp on Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Beacon Events, October 2008

Douglas Crimp on the art of Trisha Brown, January 2011

Douglas Crimp on Louise Lawler’s Why Pictures Now, September 2012

Douglas Crimp’s Top 10, December 2018

David Velasco on Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures, March 2017

David Rimanelli on a rehang of “Pictures,” October 2001

July 8, 2019