Who Gets to Call It Art?
Who Gets to Call It Art? (2006) is a ride through the 1960?s downtown New York art scene as seen through the eyes of legendary Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, Henry Geldzahler.
The film opens on a montage that shows the spirit of the early 60s in New York City. The creative boom in advertising design the artists hang outs like the Cedar Bar, where they would go to find warmth on cold nights. They were all there Jack Kerouac, Dennis Hopper, Jackson Pollock…. a rampant stream of creativity that recalls Paris in the first half of the century. A community of artists.
Henry Geldzahler, an art historian fresh out of Yale and Harvard, enters the New York scene in 1960, the year JFK was elected. These were optimistic and exciting times. Artists, living in cheap downtown lofts were breaking from the influence of Europe and Abstract Expressionism. Something entirely new was happening. Something purely American.
The 60s were experimental times. All assumptions were questioned and rules broken. The vanguard audience went to all the openings, happenings and parties, blending the social world and the art scene. There were new voices of smart young people Beat poets, James Dean, New Wave films, new appliances and cars, and product design and advertising. Cheap rents and a street lifestyle could let anyone get started and do their thing. And Henry quickly became a familiar figure downtown.
In 1970, Henry Geldzahler, the young curator of contemporary art since 1962 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, mounted the largest exhibition of modern art ever shown at the museum: New York Painting and Sculpture 1940-1970. Taking over the 18th and 19th century painting and sculpture galleries, he exhibited over 400 works of art by living American painters, including Chamberlain, Di Suvero, Flavin, Frankenthaler, Johns, Kelly, Kline, Noland, Oldenberg, Olitsky, Pollock, Poons, Rauschenberg, Rothko, Lichtenstein, Motherwell, Newman, Segal, Stella, and Warhol.
In part, that centennial show changed the direction of the museums commitment to living artists and at the same time brought in a new public interested in modern art. Henry gave American art its stamp of approval. American painting was now not just good, but important and a good investment.