ART BASTARD – Interview w/ Artist Robert Cenedella

ART BASTARD is the mischievous tale of a rebel who never fit into today’s art world… yet has become one of its most provocative, rabble-rousing characters nevertheless. By turns funny and touching, this rollicking portrait of New York painter Robert Cenedella – a contemporary of Andy Warhol who set himself up in the 60s as the anti-Warhol – uncovers a fascinating story of family secrets vs. personal identity, art vs. money, and conventional success vs. creating a life on one’s own defiant terms.  

From ART BASTARD website.

Click through for our Interview with Artist Robert Cenedella.

RobertCenedella in-front-of-LeCirque





CAVU Pictures presents a Concannon Productions film, ART BASTARD, written and directed by Victor Kanefsky and produced by Chris T. Concannon.  The editor is Jim MacDonald and the director of photography is Douglas Meltzer. 

Interview with Artist Robert Cenedella:






1.  What do you hope audiences will gain from seeing Art Bastard?

I hope that they will realize that CENSORSHIP exists not just in art but in every aspect of our society. Fifty years of being an outsider is pretty good evidence that censorship works in the case of the ART ESTABLISHMENT. 

You have to remember that I am the most widely written about unknown artist in America!  I’d like audiences to ask themselves WHY? What is missing in contemporary art is not style but SOUL. 

Soul can’t be taught and can’t be bought… when art has soul, you feel it.

2. Do you have a fun story that stands out about selling one of your paintings?

Back in the late 60s, my own four-letter painting (in response to Robert Indiana’s LOVE) was “SHIT”. Early on, I questioned how a four-letter word could become a painting. I also realized that if you had a four-letter painting called “LOVE”, it was almost impossible to top. However, I did a little research and found out that more people say “SHIT” in any given day than “LOVE”.  I was so ecstatic at knowing that I had more or less topped this popular work of art; but, when I sold a reproduction of it at the Marlborough Bookstore in New York to a woman who mistook it for the LOVE painting, the results were of course somewhat embarrassing and, in the end, they had to give her a refund.

3.  What has changed most in your art from "Second Avenue" to today?

2nd Avenue, when I did it, was looked upon as a kind of cynical view of the city and traffic. I was considered somewhat outrageous. That was in 1962. Today the painting is looked at as a kind of uninspired realism (because what I did in 1963 is precisely what traffic looks like every day and it’s only getting worse. This is the case with much of my work.  Southern Dogs also, in 1962, has been removed from exhibitions, not allowed to be printed in magazines over the years, but appears to many to be a commentary on COPS and minorities today.  Some people think I painted it this past year. I can say that my message has not changed but my color palette has.  I’d say it’s a bit more pastel now.

4.  The film has some amazing choices in music and score (including a little Ludwig!). What music most inspires you?

 In some way all music inspires me…

ART BASTARD Gallery Opening







5.  I'm a manager at one of the Angelika Theaters in North Texas and so I've got to ask what's it like having the Angelika NY as a the kickoff spot for your documentary?

All I can say is that my association with the Angelika Film Center in NY is the kind of partnership I wish I had with galleries over the decades. Not only did they like the film, but when they saw my work they asked if they could decorate their lobby with 10 of the works that were in the film.  As a result of that, the Laemmle in Santa Monica as well as 3 other theaters are going to have exhibitions of my graphic works while they show Art Bastard, and I have a feeling this might become common practice.  Works of art that are censored by our museums might very well be accepted and shown in the more democratically-run theaters.

6.  Is there a time period or decade you most love or feel was the most enjoyable?

The years between 1959 and 1980. This was before the various mayors (Koch, Bloomberg, Giuliani) sold out the city to the real estate developers. I have no interest in the city as inspiration for art anymore. 

ART BASTARD Father's Day








7.  Is it harder or easier to be inspired today painting or making art?  How has the political changes impacted your choices over the decades?

The only inspiration that I see for artists today is making money.  That is all that is talked about.  How much did this or that painting sell for at auction?  If it sold for $5 million it must be great! The only yardstick today is MONEY.  Let me ask this embarrassing question: WHAT ISN’T ART?  Ask a gallery dealer, ask an auction house, ask the head of a museum.  I can guarantee you they will not answer. That’s how low the world of art has sunk. Political changes have not impacted my art one bit.  I always paint what I want, how I want and where I want.

8.  How did the making of this documentary first get started?  Can you talk about the impact of knowing Chris Concannon (the art connection), Victor Kanefsky (bringing everything to the screen), & Jim MacDonald (compiling and editing everything)? 

The making of this documentary probably got started the day Chris Concannon, who had never bought a piece of art in his life, came to an exhibition of mine at Amsterdam’s Grand, another bar/ restaurant that I patronized and which displayed my work. He bought a print of “2001: A Stock Odyssey” because he liked it. I then told him of my idea to sell shares of stock for a single painting.  As a financial printer, the idea intrigued him and the concept was done legally through the SEC.  I guess this would be considered “conceptual art” in today’s art world. For me, it was just a way to bypass the exorbitant commission (now over 50%) that galleries collect with each sale, basically for doing nothing. Chris then educated himself about the art world in general, but was so aghast at seeing what was happening in the so-called contemporary art world that he felt my work deserved to be preserved on film.  He realized that the art world and the establishment could ignore me personally, but history seems to already have proven him correct about the film world and the art world. The film world lets the viewer decide what they like and what they don’t like. Victor Kanefsky and Jim McDonald, who Chris Concannon chose to make the film, were obviously the right choice.  Check out CAVU Pictures or the Art Bastard website to see dozens and dozens of reviews praising their work. 














9.  What do you think George Grosz would think of the art scene today?  What are the lessons or teachings from George do apply in your work today or in your teaching?

George Grosz did not only have premonitions about the coming of Hitler, and the bombing of civilians, which he portrayed in early watercolors long before the Nazis actually bombed civilians. He told me that, gifted as I was as an artist, I was to “go into Television” – that was in 1959.  In his own mind, he thought “ART WAS DEAD”.  He said that, often, to me knowing I knew what he meant – that it was dead for him.  I carried the torch.  But if you look at his fantastic series of the STICK MAN PAINTINGS you will know he also had premonitions about ART itself.  We are nowhere.  Art has become money… and nothing else. But real artists will somehow continue on their own.  You just won’t see it in Museums.

10.  The movie and your artwork do a lot to showcase NYC.  What do you most love about the city?  What makes it so artistically open to interpretation?  What parts of the boroughs and city do you like the most?  What do you feel about the rebirth of Tribeca today?

I have to respond to the part of the question that says “What do you think of the rebirth of Tribeca today?” When I came to SOHO in the early 70s, Tribeca didn’t really exist.  It was just a name. Tribeca was never REBORN.  It was a REAL ESTATE HYPE and in my opinion Tribeca was destroyed before it had a chance to be even BORN.  So going backwards, Tribeca is little more than a disgusting example of how the real estate Gestapo destroyed part of the city before anyone even knew what it was or could have been.  Tribeca is the lowest common denominator of what real estate barons have done to ruin a once beloved city.  What did I love about NY?  I was lucky enough to know NY when it was energetically diverse, which  means before GENTRIFICATION (how to make more money and drive out those who made the city truly diverse and interesting) came to be the law of the land.  I had a 4 bedroom apartment in 1960, at 30 East 50th St.  A 5 floor walk-up.  But I could afford the rent, which was $42.50 and the landlord was still making money.  And I painted many paintings that reflect that period. My rent then was roughly 1/4th of my income.  Last I looked, that same apartment was going for $3,500 a month.  Don’t tell me that everything else has gone up accordingly.  NO – the city was sold out to the super-rich, the Europeans who are laundering their money buying condos for exaggerated prices (just like paintings).  No regard for those who made the city what it was, a place of diversity and creative energy.

11.  Just the past month Morley Safer passed away.  His "60 Minutes" coverage helped showcase your artwork and introduced you to a new audience. What people have you most enjoyed seeing embrace your artwork and style over the years?  Who has correctly noticed what you've been trying to show and say for decades? 

I met Morley as a result of seeing his 60 Minutes piece on the "Con-Temporary” art scene. I emphasize "CON". Morley became a great supporter of my art and the making of the film, ART BASTARD. Over the years I've developed an underground following, mostly journalists like Murray Kempton, Nora Ephron, Marvin Kitman, Brian Miller, Victor Navasky, etc. But no one from the Art Establishment itself. It’s the journalists that have understood and supported me over the decades. Humor has been what's kept me going and Morley's brand of humor will be truly missed as much as the man himself. It’s a special person who wants what I paint and is willing to pay to get it, and that’s enough for me. To hear that anyone, a known or an unknown buyer, would buy a painting for $57.3 million (and do we ever get to see the check?) I have to say, after seeing that "contemporary" painting, what would mine be worth? What kind of an art world is this? What does it have to do with my entire career? Should I give up painting because I’m so far behind in price? How can I ever catch up?  

The film opens tomorrow in LA at the Laemmle Monica Film Center & in San Diego at the Angelika Film Center Carmel Mountain.  Next month the film will open at the Angelika Dallas!  For more information on the documentary please go to ART BASTARD.

Art Bastard Subway
















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