Contemporary Art Attitudes Questioned in Illuminating Film About Robert Cenedella
There is a conventional standard that the art reproductions orientation set into motion by Andy Warhol is something that should simply be accepted as good and progressive. However, Warhol and his groupies’ glib attitudes, even a quarter century after his death, have long been and still are conscientiously and actively despised by many.
One remarkable artist who has not only countered the Warhol orientation, but has been productive in his own right, is Robert Cenedella. The documentary, Art Bastard, is an account of his subversive revolt against the New York art collectors power elite that designates what’s in and what’s out. This clique has long genuflected at the Altar of Andy.
Before you think that has nothing to do with you because you don’t live in New York, bear in mind two things: 1. Art museums throughout the country tend to march to the beat of the New York mentality. 2. The nonprofit mentality that permeates the entire nation also puts forth their own designations as to what’s in and what’s out. This can sometimes have suffocating and excluding ramifications. In other words, Art Bastard, is a film that reflects something about your environment and freedom of expression in its own subtle way. Everyone has to ask: who decides on what voices we are exposed to?
Cenedella’s own populist visual artwork sometimes borders on the grotesque in its satirical depiction of social discontent and power dynamics. His voice is bold, like it or not. Not to mention, humorous. This confuses “Warholics” because they often arrogantly fancy themselves as the progressives, the enlightened ones. But being cutting edge can sometimes mean being a dilettante in discipleship to commercialism, narcissism, and elitism masquerading as socially conscious. These are not qualities one would ever ascribe to Cenedella.
Victor Kanefsky’s illuminating documentary relates the searing influence of German anti-fascist visual artist George Grosz on Cenedella’s caricaturist style. Close and perceptive observations of Cenedella’s work are woven into the film. His biological father was blacklisted in the McCarthy Era and Kanefsky shows us how that clearly has informed his aesthetic. The viewer gets an idea that this artist’s innate integrity is resented by the art world because it casts light on their phoniness.
There seems to be a movement stirring, albeit fledgling, about the pretentiousness and politically-correct dictates that have been coursing through the American art world ever since Warhol days. Last year Minneapolis playwright Josh Cragun wrote the remarkable, From Darkness, which tapped into similar understandings. Art Bastard adds to the increasing drumbeat to stop the celebration of mediocrity to the exclusion of art that actually says something.
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