Making ‘Pictures’: A Short History of Douglas Crimp’s Famous Show at Artists Space in 1977

Installation view of "Pictures," 1977, at Artists Space, New York. ©D. JAMES DEE/COURTESY ARTISTS SPACE, NEW YORK

Installation view of “Pictures,” 1977, at Artists Space, New York.


With Douglas Crimp’s memoir, Before Pictures, having recently been released, below is a short history of his legendary show “Pictures,” held first at Artists Space in New York in 1977. The show included work by Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith, and went on to spur a loose movement that has since become known as the Pictures Generation. (Cindy Sherman, perhaps the most famous member of the group, was not included in that show, but her work was included in a revised and expanded version of Crimp’s essay that ran in the journal October in 1979.) The following excerpts from the ARTnews archives trace the sudden rise of the “Pictures” artists, their fall from favor in the late ’80s, and their return to prominence in the ’00s.

“Reviews and Previews”
By Gerrit Henry
January 1978

Pictures (Artist’s Space): This was a deeply interesting group show, conceived and organized by critic and teacher Douglas Crimp. The show’s title, “Pictures,” refers directly to Crimp’s contention in his catalogue statement: that contemporary American art is entering a post-abstract phase, with young artists again evidencing a concern with the image, not as a representational end in itself, but as a means of perceiving reality. To varying degrees, the five artists exhibited in the show have appropriated images from popular culture to carry out their explorations of how symbols “mean.” . . .

This exhibition was a good start in that direction and, in itself, a strong display of art-critical intelligence and innovation.

“Art in the (Re)Making”
By Gerald Marzorati
May 1986

Douglas Crimp believed that [Sherrie] Levine was on to something. He had been asked by Helene Winer, who ran Artists Space at that time and knew many of the young artists from Cal Arts (she was from Los Angeles), to organize a show of new art for the not-for-profit space—and not to just round up a few new paintings and sculptures from here and there, as was the “pluralist” way, but to get serious and critical and make a statement. The show would open in the fall of 1977. Crimp was then a graduate student at the City University of New York, a young academic critic. And like Levine and the artists she was getting to know, he was interested in ideas about representation—especially those that had come out of his reading of Walter Benjamin, the German literary critic; of Roland Barthes and other French theorists; and of those writers, most of them British, who were applying the analytic methods of structuralism and semiotics to the study of film. . . .

“I’d come to New York to find a certain community,” she said. “I felt very lucky to discover this group of people so early on.”

“Stop Making Sense”
By Hunter Drohojowska
October 1989

Robert Longo’s dramatic drawings of “Men in the Cities” from the early ’80s are a case in point, often bought by the very businessmen whose agony they portray. His quote about the duality of the artist’s position is germane: Longo said he wants to “grow out of the living rooms of [TV producer] Aaron Spelling the way the thing pops out of the guy’s chest in Alien. You made me, now you have to deal with me.”

This is art in the age of the triumph of the media, which is to say an age in which the media are always dissembling. These artists admit that they are lost in society’s trough between role and and reality, a landscape of denial where neither the answers of history nor the expediencies of the present seem to suffice. They need more than signs to find their way out of the forest.

“Back in the Spotlight”
By Eileen Kinsella
November 2008

Among the artists from the late ’70s and early ’80s being reexamined now are Troy Brauntuch and Jack Goldstein. Part of the so-called Pictures Generation, which was known for its appropriation of images from popular culture, they were featured in the 1977 “Pictures” show at Artists Space in New York.

In the late ’70s “people didn’t have a strong sense of a movement because there were many different things going on,” says Douglas Crimp, who curated “Pictures” and is currently Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester. “Here was a show that offered a kind of theoretical discussion. People began to talk about appropriation, popular culture, and representation.” A number of the artists associated with the movement, such as Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, became extremely well known after Artists Space director Helene Winer went on to launch Metro Pictures gallery. . . .

The artist, who is now an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, “never stopped working,” Petzel points out. Brauntuch had a solo exhibition at Petzel’s New York gallery earlier this year and was also featured in the 2005 Whitney Biennial. Since the biennial, people are increasingly interested in Brauntuch’s work, says Petzel Gallery’s director Andrea Teschke. At the most recent show, large works were priced at $100,000—an increase of about 15 percent in the past two years.

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