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Henry Geldzahler

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Title: Henry Geldzahler  
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Subject: Henry Geldzahler (film), The Factory, Blue Sky (artist), The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, Charles Bell (painter)
Collection: 1935 Births, 1994 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Historians, 20Th-Century American Writers, American Art Critics, American Art Historians, American Historians, American People of Belgian-Jewish Descent, Belgian Emigrants to the United States, Belgian Jews, Cancer Deaths in New York, Deaths from Liver Cancer, Harvard University Alumni, Horace Mann School Alumni, Jewish American Historians, Lgbt People from the United States, People Associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, People from Antwerp, People from New York City, Yale University Alumni
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Henry Geldzahler

Henry Geldzahler
Born (1935-07-09)July 9, 1935
Antwerp, Belgium
Died August 16, 1994(1994-08-16) (aged 59)
Southampton, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard University
Occupation Curator, art historian, art critic

Henry Geldzahler (July 9, 1935 – August 16, 1994) was a curator of contemporary art in the late 20th century, as well as a modern art art historian and art critic. He is best known for his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as New York City Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, and for his social role in the art world with a close relationship with contemporary artists.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Death 2
  • In popular culture 3
  • Footnotes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and career

Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Geldzahler's Jewish family emigrated to the United States in 1940.[1] He graduated from Yale University in 1957, where he was a member of Manuscript Society.[2]

In 1960, Geldzahler left graduate school at Harvard University to join the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He became the Curator for American Art there, and later the first Curator for 20th Century Art. His time at the Met is most known for his landmark 1969 exhibition, New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, which included his favorite contemporary work and became the talk of the town.[3][4] It was the Museum’s first exhibition of contemporary American art, and marked both the inauguration of the newly established department of Contemporary Arts and the 100th anniversary of the Museum.[5]

Unlike most curators at the time, he befriended many of the artists he was interested in, and socialized with them as part of the same art world. Artists he associated with included Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Ching Ho Cheng, Larry Stanton, Burhan Dogancay, and later Jean-Michel Basquiat. He took a temporary leave from the Met to become the first director of the visual-arts program of the National Endowment for the Arts, where he initiated a program of museum grants for the purchase of art made by living American artists.

From 1977 until 1982, he was the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for New York City, having been appointed by Mayor Edward I. Koch. As an openly gay man who was part of the Koch administration and the conservative Metropolitan Museum of Art, Geldzahler contributed significant time and effort into AIDS-related causes. After leaving his post for New York City, he continued to write on art, and acted as an independent curator, working at the alternative space P.S. 1 and the austere high modernist Dia Art Foundation.

Geldzhaler was the curator of the 1969 Metropolitan exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970.[6] In addition to authoring its catalog, Geldzhaler has also written American Painting in the 20th Century (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1965), Charles Bell: The Complete Works, 1970-1990 (Abrams, 1991), and Making It New: Essays, Interviews, and Talks (Harvest Books, 1996); and co written Art in Transit: Subway Drawings by Keith Haring (1984) Andy Warhol: Portraits of the Seventies and Eighties (Thames and Hudson, 1993), and many other works.


On August 16, 1994, Geldzahler died of liver cancer at the age of 59.

In popular culture

  • Geldzahler is the subject of a documentary film called Who Gets to Call It Art? (2006) by Peter Rosen.
  • He is depicted in portraits by several of his artist friends, including a famous 1969 double portrait by David Hockney of Geldzahler with his then partner, painter Christopher Scott.[7]
  • Geldzahler is depicted in an Andy Warhol movie, Henry Geldzahler (1964), filmed silent and in black-and-white the first week of July 1964. The film consists of Geldzahler smoking a cigar and becoming increasingly uncomfortable for 97 minutes.[8]


  1. ^ "Geldzahler, Henry". Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  2. ^ Ed. Parks, Steven; Cooper, Henry S. F. Jr., Wallace, Thomas C. (2002). Manuscript Society (1953-2002).  
  3. ^ Goldberger, Paul (1994-08-17). "Henry Geldzahler, 59, Critic, Public Official And Contemporary Art's Champion, Is Dead". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  4. ^ Goldberger, Paul (1994-08-17). "Henry Geldzahler, 59, Critic, Public Official And Contemporary Art's Champion, Is Dead". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  5. ^ Finding aid for the George Trescher records related to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, 1949, 1960-1971 (bulk 1967-1970). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Melia, Paul (1995). David Hockney: Volume 1 of Critical Introductions To Art. Manchester University Press ND. p. 82.  
  8. ^ "Henry Geldzahler (1964)". Retrieved 2009-11-01. 


  • Tomkins, Calvin. "Profiles: Henry Geldzahler." New Yorker November 6, 1971: 58-60.
  • "Henry Geldzahler interview, 1970 Jan. 27" Sound recordings: 2 sound tape reels; 7 in. Transcript: 76 p. (microfilm reel 3197) Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

External links

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