Palm Pictures // 2006 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // July 3rd, 2006
The New York art scene of the '60s, and the man who made it POP!
Henry Geldzahler neither made art, nor even aspired to. The man knew what he liked as a critic, and became the first "contemporary art" curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He ended up changing the cultural landscape, and ushered in one of the most explosive and ingenious art movements of the modern period. Who Gets to Call it Art? takes a documentary look at his life and career, and includes archival and current footage of the artists who were touched by his tenure. In 1969 he launched his career-defining show of "New York Painting and Sculpture." This largest modern art showing in the history of the Met was the first and last to occupy thirty-five galleries. The exhibition established the museum as the leader of contemporary art, and led to an appointment for Geldzahler to the Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York City. Geldzahler made his mark as a critic rather than an art historian, and left a tangible legacy as important as the artists who surrounded him.
Who Gets to Call it Art? is a heady film that might be daunting to people who know little about the contemporary art movement. It's a dense work that examines not only cultural icons like Warhol or Lichtenstein, but drills down to names and faces only the academic art historian would be able to rattle off. It contains a treasure trove of vintage clips, photographs, and interviews with luminaries such as Frank Stella, David Hockney, John Chamberlain, Francesco Clemente, and Larry Poons. The film does a great job of examining the art scene of the '60s, and really doesn't examine any of the human drama that surrounded Geldzahler. It's academic pith instead of sensational stories, and absolutely concrete rather than expressionistic. We learn more of the movement, and nothing of the passions that made lives. Geldzahler's own journey gets short shrift, and the movie offers a PBS special feel rather than a cinematic venture. Henry is upstaged in his own documentary by showy clips of Warhol and other Pop artists who had larger than life personas.
The presentation on DVD by Palm Pictures is standard. The picture is quite clear, though individual clips vary in quality as expected. Strangely enough the widescreen presentation is preserved from the theatrical print but not enhanced for widescreen televisions. Sound is delivered in a simple stereo that insures dialogue is clear, and vintage '60s music sounds strong enough. Extras include additional interview footage, a Claes Oldenburg film happening, and finally a question and answer session with the director and two artists. The package makes a strong presentation of a heady subject.
Who Gets to Call it Art? should be requisite viewing for people who love or study art. It's well worth a rental or purchase for the archival clips and interviews. Casual viewers won't find much other than a quality lecture on what the movement meant, and a nice medium history and lesson in art. I felt like the DVD should come with 1.5 credit hours for college to apply to an art history degree. If you can't get enough art, this one's for you. If you find discussions of "a cliché trapped in a cliché being revolutionary" tiring you may be better off looking at soup cans in the grocery store.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Additional Interviews
* Claes Oldenburg's Film Happening Fotodeath
* Q&A with Director Peter Rosen, and Artists Larry Poons with James Rosenquist
* Theatrical Trailer