Partner Christopher Scott

Queer Places:
Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, Stati Uniti
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, Stati Uniti
Horace Mann School, 231 W 246th St, Bronx, NY 10471, Stati Uniti
Green River Cemetery, 787 Accabonac Rd, East Hampton, NY 11937, Stati Uniti

Henry Geldzahler (July 9, 1935 – August 16, 1994) was a Belgian-born American curator of contemporary art in the late 20th century, as well as a historian and critic of modern art. 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.

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, Richard Bernstein, David Hockney, Ching Ho Cheng, Larry Stanton, Burhan Dogancay, and later Jean-Michel Basquiat.[6] 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. He appeared, as himself, in the 1974 David Hockney biopic, A Bigger Splash.

Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott by David Hockney

LARRY STANTON (1947-1984) Portrait of Henry Geldzahler,
LARRY STANTON (1947-1984) Portrait of Henry Geldzahler, Acrylic on Canvas, 812x762 mm, 32 x 30 inches. Dated, Dec. 24, 1981, and inscribed, "Henry"/work of Larry Stanton on reverse. 1981. Larry Stanton was not particularly well-known outside of his small circle of influential friends, an impressive group that included David Hockney and Henry Geldzahler. Although based in Manhattan's West Village, his portraits included members of the thriving East Village art scene of the early 1980s and other members of the New York gay community at the time. David Hockney wrote in the preface to Larry Stanton Painting and Drawing (Twelvetrees Press, California, 1986) "Larry Stanton was a portraitist. Skill in portraiture is an instinct, it cannot be taught …The portraitist is an observer of people, his attitudes and feelings will be reflected in his observations and usually the interest in personality makes one study faces, other aspects of personality show in the body; posture, ways of moving, etc., but most is revealed in the face. People make their own faces and Larry knew this instinctively." And Geldzahler, the first Curator of Twentieth Century Art at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote in the same monograph, "It was in the urban setting that [Larry] found his subject matter, the heads and torsos of young men, often large-featured and always seated in an attitude of repose that emanated an attractive energy." Geldzahler was a frequent sitter for the artist.

Yale University, New Haven, CT

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.[7] In addition to authoring its catalog, Geldzhaler wrote 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). He co-wrote Art in Transit: Subway Drawings by Keith Haring (1984), Andy Warhol: Portraits of the Seventies and Eighties (Thames and Hudson, 1993), and published many other works.

On August 16, 1994, Geldzahler died at his home in Southampton, New York of liver cancer at the age of 59.[3][8]

He is buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York.[9]

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