Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Geldzahler's Jewish family emigrated to the United States in 1940. He graduated from Yale University in 1957, where he was a member of Manuscript Society.
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.
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, Larry Stanton, and later Jean-Michel Basquiat. Geldzahler is also noted for his recognition of the first Chinese contemporary artist in America, Ching Ho Cheng.
Henry Geldzahler was a curator of contemporary art in the late 20th century, as well as a modern art art historian and art critic. Geldzahler is the subject of a documentary called Who Gets to Call It Art?, 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. Geldzahler is depicted in a 1964 movie, Henry Geldzahler, by Andy Warhol, smoking a cigar.
Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman by Dennis Hopper
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. 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.
Geldzahler is the subject of a documentary called Who Gets to Call It Art?, 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. Geldzahler is depicted in a 1964 movie, Henry Geldzahler, by Andy Warhol which consists of Geldzahler smoking a cigar and becoming increasingly uncomfortable for 90 minutes.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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