By William Wolf

ART BASTARD  Send This Review to a Friend

This is the best art film I have seen. “Art Bastard” is a scintillating, visually splendid look at the life and satirical work of socially conscious, talented and articulate art rebel Robert Cenedella. He is someone you should enjoy meeting, a filmic opportunity provided in this impressive documentary written and directed by Victor Kanefsky and being released June 3rd by Cavu Pictures.

It’s clear we are in creative hands at the outset, when credits appear as signs of subway station stops that effectively suggest the New York milieu in which Cenedella has flourished. One may not know his work, as it has not been popular with the art establishment, hence the label rebel, although there is a long history of important exhibits and international recognition. When you look at his paintings, extensively shown in the elaborate film, one can see how satirically good they are.

There is a definite influence by George Grosz, which figures. The film shows how Grosz was a mentor to Cenedella, who studied under him at the Arts Students League of New York, where Cenedella, who just turned 76, teaches.

The film provides ample room for Cenedella to talk about his life and work, and he is quite the wit and charmer. It is a delight to listen to his comments, many of them acerbic. He is passionate about wanting a better society, which is reflected in his work. There is much humor in the characters he draws, as in the way in which he will substitute an animal’s head on a targeted character. His painting of Santa Claus on a cross, meant to skewer the commercialization of Christmas, caused a furor. In addition to his penchant for satire and humor, he uses color dynamically, making his work especially enticing.

One of the commissions he undertook was to do a painting showing the people who dined at the renowned Le Cirque at its old address. He observed the scene for months and finally came up with a mural chock full of recognizable faces, which is displayed at the restaurant’s current address, as we see in the film.

The title “Art Bastard” has a double meaning. On the one hand it refers to the outsider tradition of doing individualistic art not in vogue. On the other it may refer to what we learn about Cenedella’s paternity in the course of the film. We meet the people in his life, fleshing out the portrait of the artist. And he is not reticent about dispensing philosophical views.

As informative as it is to get to know the artist, it is even more enlightening to see the paintings used in the film. “Art Bastard” is also enlivened by the various settings and by the music used as background and tempo. Some choices are classical, others jazz.

The art establishment should take a fresh look at Cenedella’s work, which certainly deserves a major, reflective New York exhibition at this point in time. Perhaps the film will help bring that about. In any event, “Art Bastard” is a movie-going experience that anyone can enjoy, apart from the special interest those in the art world should have. A Cavu Pictures release. Reviewed May 30, 2016.


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