Who Gets To Call It Art?

"Good"

Who Gets To Call It Art? Review


The question asked by Peter Rosen's documentary Who Gets To Call It Art? is not just an excellent one, it's also probably the most important question asked by critics of modern art. Once Warhol used his Brillo boxes and soup cans to update Duchamp's ready-made concept for mass conception, thus helping to throw open the doors of the art world to (seemingly) any and all, a procession of querulous viewers starting asking just what made that pile of twisted metal in the corner of the gallery Art? While Rosen doesn't ever answer the question in its totality, the film does at least answer it in a smaller sense by focusing so much of its energy on the life and achievements of legendary modern art curator Henry Geldzahler. Who gets to call it art? This guy did, and not you. So there.

As the film readily acknowledges, art never has been, and was likely never really supposed to be a thing of populism. As artist after artist from the hothouse ferment of the 1960s New York scene intones amidst Rosen's jittery and fun editing collages, they were really making the art for each other. It was really the same few hundred people during that time roaming from one gallery opening to another, seeing the new Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, or James Rosenquist and then going home and making some art themselves. Or just talking about it. Call it pretentious or self-indulgent, but what Rosen does better than many other chroniclers of the art world is show not just how truly exhilarating it was to be present at such a pivotal cultural time, but also how extraordinarily enjoyable it was. And Geldzahler was at the center of it all, seemingly.

More gadfly than stiff appreciator, Geldzahler was the scion of a Belgian diamond fortune, and loved nothing more than art and artists. A brash young Turk nattering on about modern art in the stuffy confines of the Metropolitan Museum, where he was curator, Geldzahler probably did more than anybody else in the country to advance the cause of modern American art, most especially those of the Pop movement. And as Rosen puts it, this was a good thing, with Pop's leading lights as the bright and optimistic reaction of the late 1950s and early '60s to the dour interiority of the abstract expressionists like de Kooning and Pollock, whose energies had started to run empty. As Robert Rauschenburg notes dryly, "You have to have time to feel sorry for yourself."

Given that Geldzahler was hardly shy about his opinions, was set up in arguably the nation's single most important museum, and loved nothing more than roaming downtown studios and discovering new art, it's little surprise that his taste exerted a disproportionate affect on the cultural scene. The film stops just short of saying that Geldzahler was responsible for establishing what is currently seen as the Pop art canon (his old friend Warhol, especially), but given the controversy and acclaim that greeted his landmark 1970 modern art survey at the Met, not to mention everyone who was and wasn't included in it (no small matter of controversy itself), it wouldn't be a hard argument to make.

Whether or not this matters, of course, depends on the viewer's perspective. Rosen has a great and instinctual feel for the art world, and presents it in a friendly enough manner, with Pop-esque frivolity and humor -- the film is nothing if not approachable. By pinning himself so closely to Geldzahler, though, Rosen handicaps himself. By spending so much time with these artists, a wily and voluble bunch for the most part, it's hard then for us to take too seriously the smart but rather self-important stylings of a professional aesthete like Geldzahler. What's next, a film about Clement Greenberg and his essays on Pollock?



Who Gets To Call It Art?

Facts and Figures

Run time: 78 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 1st February 2006

Distributed by: Palm Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 11 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Peter Rosen

Producer: Sarah Lukinson, Peter Rosen

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.