Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Get ready for a lollapalooza: Victor Kanefsky's look at Robert Cenedella in ART BASTARD

What a little gem is ART BASTARD, the new documentary about a New York artist of whom TrustMovies had never before heard: Robert Cenedella. This talented but far-too-unrecognized fellow and his story prove such fun to get to know that the film's 84 minutes simply fly by. In the process -- and this is the movie's ace-in-the-hole -- Mr. Cenedella offers up a witty, joyous, charming and utterly deserved takedown of the "art market" and "art industry" as they have existed for, oh, maybe the past half-century (at least).

The movie begins with some terrific NYC-subway-themed credits (one of which is shown below), after which we meet and begin to learn about Cenedella (above and below), his art, his career, and the history of his family, along with his perceptive-if-against-the-grain ideas about the current (and seemingly forever) state of what our "cultural guardians" would have us perceive as "art."

If you are one of those who kow-tow to the standard cultural ideals, you will no doubt bridle at much of what this artist, as well as the film about him, have to say. I happen to be among those who feel that Andy Warhol and most of his "art" constitutes one of the major con jobs of our time, so when I saw some of the "infamous" YES ART exhibit from 1965 that Cenedella produced and mounted (one particularly piquant piece is shown below), I went quite banana-nirvana. (I wish I had followed the art world more closely back in the 1960s so that I would have seen this groundbreaking show.)

As written and directed by former film editor  Victor Kanefsky (shown at left), one of whose most famous editing jobs was on Bloodsucking Freaks, the documentary just bubbles along handily, as though it were writing and filming itself (this is a compliment, by the way). Kanefsky bounces between statements from his subject to those from some other art bigwigs, as well as from The Nation's Victor Navasky -- all of which makes us think about exactly what Cenedella wants us to think about: What is art? And what is "good" art?

To that end, Cenedella parcels out sly little statements such as "There is no such thing as a bad Jackson Pollack." (This is not a compliment, by the way.)  He makes me realize time and again that much of what passes for modern art is actually modern room decor. And there is, I would suggest, a lot more money to be made from room decor than from meaningful art.

Along the way we see plenty of Cenedella's art (above and below), enough in fact, that we quite come to appreciate it. Unless I had a home large enough to house it, however, I'm not sure I'd want to hang a Cenedella on my wall, as much as I love what he does. But I'd gladly spend a few hours at an exhibit of his work -- which may remind you of everything from Pieter Bruegel to George Grosz, the latter of whom, not coincidentally was Cenedella's art instructor and dear friend. (The commissioned painting below was done for the famous New York restaurant, Le Cirque -- and the movie offers up a very tasty revenge tale associated with this piece.)

Love it or leave it, Cenedella's art is almost always, from what we see here, "about" something. And this sets it off from so much else that reigns as "good" art.  Early on in this doc, we learn about the artist's family and his parentage, in which the word "bastard," in its original meaning, is quite on target. But what this guy has made of his history, his art, and his own subsequently sired family is enough to make you proud. Long may Cenedella live -- and paint!

Art Bastard, another terrific little movie from CAVU Pictures -- remember its bizarre "charmer," Lucky Bastard, from a couple of years back? -- opens Friday, June 3, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and then on June 10 in Washington DC at the Angelika PopUp, and on June 17 in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Monica Film Center) and San Diego (at the Angelika Film Center, Carmel Mountain). A limited, nationwide rollout is then promised during the weeks and months to come. Click here to see currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters.

And, yes, I know: I'm publishing this post two weeks early. But the film's opening date was suddenly moved back from May 20 to June 3, and since this post was all I have ready today. it's going up now. The photo above? Yes: That's one of our country's sleazier Presidents (gheesh -- out of so many). You'll have to see Art Bastard to learn just how Cenedella used Tricky Dick, and further, how Mr. "I am not a crook," along with Rose Mary Woods, actually helped him do it.

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