WHO GETS TO CALL IT ART?

NR
Reviews

The title of Peter Rosen's Who Gets to Call it Art? suggests a rumination on the nature of art, but actually it is a homage to art critic and collector Henry Geldzahler. Geldzahler was the first curator for contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a friend and promoter of several Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist and Pop Art painters and sculptors who dominated the New York art scene in the 1960s. Several living artists, Frank Stella among them, are interviewed in the documentary and speak intelligently about the art, but Who Gets to Call it Art? is mostly dish for art gallery habitués. Despite its vertiginous New York pace and an abundance of attitude-the film opens with John Chamberlain's sneering observation that the public needs to "catch up" to art-it's clear that Geldzahler is virtually unknown outside Big Apple art circles.

Excellent editing makes sense of Peter Rosen's dramatic montages of purposefully unlabeled paintings and sculptures-what better way to lose the philistines?-connecting them to individual artists or to those who influenced them. Who Gets to Call it Art? can be enjoyed as a quick overview of the contemporary American art scene, since many of the artists who appear in the film, and other artists whose work is showcased, have either become household names or have exercised enormous influence over American art. However, they're all male, which stretches credulity. No doubt Geldzahler's coterie was male-the art scene of 1950s and 1960s-era New York was male-dominated-but several well-known women artists, such as Helen Frankenthaler, are barely footnoted. Famous and pioneering female gallery owners who were Geldzahler's contemporaries are not even mentioned.

With cinematic sleight of hand, Rosen isolates Geldzahler from his fellow collectors, and celebrates him as flâneur, art groupie and connoisseur, a critic who rejected the deadening exclusivity of aesthetics. Geldzahler, who died in 1994, certainly got to call the work he favored "art," but he isn't unique, as the documentary insists, nor was he as influential as his equally astute precursors Peggy Guggenheim and Abby "Babs" Rockefeller, to name just two. Peggy Guggenheim's collection graces the Palazzo Venier del Leoni in Venice, as well as her uncle's Guggenheim Museum. "Babs" Rockefeller's collection became the Museum of Modern Art. And, oh, for you philistines who need to "catch up," here's some insider dish: Babs' children referred to MoMA, which began on a floor of the family home, as "mommy's museum."

-Maria Garcia