The documentary film ‘Art Bastard’ is actually quite legitimate

Robert Cenedella in front of one of his works in 'Art Bastard'
Robert Cenedella in front of one of his works, Le Cirque – The First Generation, in ‘Art Bastard’

“The Metropolitan (Museum) to me was more special than a church” – Robert Cenedella

Writer/director Victor Kanefsky is known primarily for his work as an editor.  Now he’s the man behind Art Bastard, an in-depth look at the life of noted artist Robert Cenedella.  It also examines some interesting questions about the art world today.  Do a tight-knit clique of collectors, critics and curators determine what makes art “good?”  Is art today more about money rather than meaning?

Robert Cenedella learned at the tender age of six that his mother’s husband was not his biological father.  His youth was shaped in an unusual way when that non-biological father  went from well-paid radio script writer into poverty, thanks to blacklisting.  Expelled from the High School for Art and Music over a satirical letter, he would go on to the Arts Students League.  There he studied with George Grosz.  Never a “traditionalist” within the art world, Cenedella responded to the fad of I Like Elvis buttons with his own design of I Like Ludwig buttons.  They funded his art education.

2001, a Stock Odyssey by Robert Cenedella

Robert rose to real prominence in 1965 when he poked fun at Pop Art with his one person Yes Art exhibition.  He was encouraged to continue in this vein but instead ceased painting altogether for nearly a decade.  His works are nothing short of astonishing in their ability to capture the reality of ordinary and extraordinary people and events with his own style and verve.

In a number of scenes where Mr. Cenedella comments on not just his art, but how the world perceives art, he makes it clear that politics are a part of almost every one of his works.  It is his form of social commentary.  Take a look at his reaction to the Dow Jones stock index breaking through the 2000 barrier for the first time.

He was commissioned to create a painting for Saatchi & Saatchi for display at their offices in New York City in 1988 but the resulting work was so controversial that it was never displayed as scheduled.  At least not until later on when the Art Students League of New York displayed the work.  That led to almost instantaneous condemnation by New York’s Catholic League.  Calls to take the work down were ignored by the Art Students League.

Robert Cenedella's vision of Santa Claus
Robert Cenedella’s vision of Santa Claus

We hear from those curators, gallery owners and other artists about what makes the art of Mr. Cenedella so unique and yet so much outside the sphere of “traditional” artworks.  He is beloved by many and clearly has no anger for those who currently establish what is and isn’t “good” in the art world.  He has followed in his mentor’s footsteps, holding the George Grosz Chair at the Arts Student League and teaching classes there since 1988.

The film makes very effective use of Mr. Cenedella’s works as well as using music to enhance rather than overpower the imagery.  An excellent effort.  Art Bastard opened in limited release in New York City on June 3rd, opened in Los Angeles on June 17th and will break wider on June 24th.

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