Popping Pop’s bubble

Robert Cenedella in 1988 in his Manhattan studio.

Robert Cenedella in 1988 in his Manhattan studio.

In 1811, young poet-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from Oxford University for anonymously publishing a pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism. Nearly 150 years later, during the Cold War era, young painter-to-be Robert Cenedella was expelled from the High School of Music and Art in New York City for writing a letter to the principal ridiculing the air raid drills that in those days required students to “duck and cover” under their desks in preparation for a nuclear attack. Sounds more like good sense than satire today, but Cenedella’s little act of rebellion set the tone for a life in the arts that defied (and still does) all the musts, oughts and shoulds of 20th-century cultural trendsetters.

A contemporary of Andy Warhol, Cenedella has been characterized as the “anti-Warhol,” calling out Pop Art as an emperor with no clothes on and rejecting the success that might have come to him much sooner had he been willing to succumb to the lure of crass commercialization. He had the misfortune to fall in love with representational, social-realist styles of art at a time when first abstraction and then ironic cool were all the rage. Even so, over time, Cenedella’s vast canvases, rife with the chaotic beauty of politics, humor, history and humanity, drew admirers from all walks of society – even from the vaunted art patrons who rejected him.

Some characters seem to survive adverse times through sheer orneriness, and today Cenedella has finally become a voice to be reckoned with amongst the art-world cognoscenti. In his youth a student, protégé and friend of German artist George Grosz, Cenedella is now passing on the legacy of Grosz’s approach to art, in the very same room at the Art Students League where Grosz once taught. And he is now the subject of a documentary titled Art Bastard, directed by Victor Kanefsky, that opens on Friday, July 8 at Upstate Films Woodstock. The new film is described as “a portrait of the artist as a young troublemaker, an alternate history of modern art and a quintessential New York story.”

The documentary will be shown at Upstate Films in Woodstock starting on July 8. Better yet, the man himself is coming to the theater on Tinker Street for a special screening followed by a Q & A on Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m. After the film and talk, there will be a reception for the artist just down the street at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM). Entry to the festivities costs $15 general admission, $12 for seniors and $10 for members of Upstate Films and/or WAAM. This is a terrific opportunity to hear from a gifted, honest, take-no-prisoners iconoclast whose stubborn resistance to the vagaries of aesthetic fashion has been vindicated by time. For more info, call (845) 876-4546, extension 2, or visit https://upstatefilms.org/coming-soon/art-bastard.


Special screening of Art Bastard on Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m. followed by Q&A with artist Robert Cenedella at Upstate Films Woodstock, 132 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-6608, www.upstatefilms.org. Reception to follow at Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, 28 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-2940, www.woodstockart.org. $15 general admission, $12 for seniors and $10 for members of Upstate Films and/or WAAM.

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