Not every young man of the Hebraic persuasion can say he spent his bar mitzvah money on major artwork by Frank Stella—and years before Frank Stella became Frank Stella. Henry Geldzahler can. Harvard-educated, ultraopinionated and possessing a well-positioned influence on New York’s seismic art scene of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the cherubic Geldzahler (who died in 1994) cut an enthusiastic aesthete’s path through the city’s loft studios and happenings, ultimately becoming the Met’s modernizing curator and a wielder of bold, prescient tastes.
Peter Rosen’s wonderful new profile, an exuberant fix for art junkies, delivers Geldzahler’s slightly fussy personality in oblique fashion, mostly through the loving testimony of the artists he championed: Stella (“He liked the feel of the goods”), David Hockney and James Rosenquist, among others. Certain avenues remain largely unexplored, particularly Geldzahler’s gayness and his falling out with Andy Warhol after years of confidence. But in the company of so much absorbing footage from the era, who cares?
Rosen’s doc may actually work best as a well-organized primer on key art and artists: Jasper Johns murmuring in a smoky, b&w interview, “I dreamed I painted a long American flag”; Warhol and Sonny Liston appearing uncomfortable in an ad for Braniff Airways; critic Clement Greenberg dissing the whole of Pop Art as “nice stuff...but minor.” It’s impossible to emerge from the doc unmoved by the pungency of the scene; in that sense, Who Gets to Call It Art? honors its subject in full. (Now playing; Film Forum.)—Joshua Rothkopf