Who Gets to Call It Art?

Who Gets to Call It Art?

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Andy Warhol shot more than 500 “screen tests” between 1964 and 1966, and if Henry Geldzahler, the first curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were alive today he may or may not acknowledge the privilege of having sat down for his superstar friend’s camera. Geldzahler was a champion of avant garde art but he didn’t enjoy sitting for Warhol. Should looking at art, then, be as fun and rapturous as it is to make? This is a more interesting question than the one posed by the title of Peter Rosen’s featherweight doc, which doubles as a Geldzahler portraiture and a busy-bee tour of the New York art scene of the 1960s, but what the film lacks in depth it more than makes up for in zeal. Geldzahler, who played the part of an overweight curator in his 20s so as to exude a feeling of status and subsequently break into the business, did plenty to bring an appreciation of modern art to the public consciousness. He knew what he liked, which is to say, he was the one who got to call it art—to the chagrin of any artist, big or small, left out of exhibitions like the “New York Painting: 1940-1970” show he mounted at the Met in 1969. Through interviews with art-world luminaries like David Hockney, Larry Poons, and Francesco Clemente, filmmaker Jonas Mekas, and archival audio of Geldzahler addressing friends, the man emerges as a playfully irascible friend and neighbor of the contemporary artist and champion of abstract art and other modes of avant garde expression. Through his use of green screen and montage, Rosen seems to want to position his film as its own work of pop art; though playful and unpretentious, it’s easy to imagine Geldzahler scoffing at the affect. I mean, this was a man who used one of Warhol’s commodified laundry detergent boxes as the base for one of his Long Island homes’ end tables.


The archival footage is of acceptable quality, as is much of the interview footage, but the pop art that's incorporated into the documentary shows the image's weakness, with much of Warhol's brasher works covered in digital junk. Sound is not spectacular but still acceptable.


For those who couldn't get enough, additional interviews with the likes of Frank Stella and Larry Poons have been dumped in the extras section. Also included here is an audio interview with James Rosenquist, Poons, and director Peter Rosen recorded at Film Forum (where the film premiered), a really interesting Fotodeath "happening" by Claes Oldenburg from the '60s, a theatrical trailer, previews of other Palm Pictures films, and a bunch of weblinks.


I do! And this isn't it. The interactive menus are pretty though.

Image 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Sound 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Extras 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Overall 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

  • DVD-Video
  • Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region 1
  • Aspect Ratio
  • 1.33: 1 Full Frame
  • Dolby Digital Formats
  • English 2.0 Stereo
  • DTS
  • None
  • Subtitles & Captions
  • None
  • Special Features
  • Additional Interviews
  • Claes Oldenburg’s Film Happening: "Fotodeath"
  • Audio Q&A with Peter Rosen, James Rosenquist and Larry Poons
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Previews
  • Weblinks
  • Buy
    Release Date
    May 23, 2006
    Palm Pictures
    80 min
    Peter Rosen
    David Hockney, Larry Poons, Frank Stella, James Rosenquist, Mark di Suvero, Francesco Clemente, John Chamberlain, Ivan Karp, Calvin Tompkins, George Lois, Ellsworth Kelly, Jonas Mekas