Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who Gets to Call it Art?

Last night I watched the movie "Who Gets to Call it Art?" about Henry Geldzahler, the Met's curator of modern art in the 1960's. Originally, he didn't want to work there, he told them, because all their artists were dead. He wanted to work at the Whitney, where they cared about modern art. The Met offered him $5000 a year, and he began a career of telling New York what to call art. He hung Franz Kline's Untitled and said "What one sees is distorted by the strength of the emotions felt by the artist as he's committing the painting."
In the film, a tribute to the great Geldzahler, Frank Stella and John Chamberlin shared stories about Franz Kline. John Chamberlin recalled being in a bar with Kline, and having him tell the bartender "Just line me up ten beers so I don't have to bother you so often." And when he recalled the night, Chamberlin smiled that grizzled old mechanic smile.
Stella had another memory, of being in a bar with Kline. Someone wanted proof of who the best young artist of the day was, and Kline told him, "Gather up all the artists, then drag them outside, lift the lid in the street and throw them into the sewer. The first one that climbs out is the best artist."
Surly lover of the gritty, I think you would have given all the other artists a run for the sunlight.

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