Renowned New York artist Robert Cenedella, who was the subject of the award-winning documentary Art Bastard and is a longtime teacher at The Art Students League of New York, will be displaying his infamous work “The Presence of Man” at Central Park Fine Arts for the first time in 20 years.
When the painting of Santa Claus on the Cross was first displayed 20 years ago, it caused public outcry from the Catholic Church, who claimed it was “unnecessarily offensive, especially at this time of year.” However, Cenedella says his message is not an attack on Catholicism — instead, it’s actually a statement on how the holiday had lost its meaning and instead become a “commercial horror show.”
Cenedella goes on to explain more behind the painting. “Christmas has a certain nostalgia associated with the season for most people, but at the time I painted ‘The Presence of Man,’ I felt the holiday had lost its meaning and instead had become a commercial horror show. Yes, the painting has been condemned, but it has also been championed by similar-minded individuals — those who feel that same loss of purpose.”
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights released a statement about the painting again this year. Catholic League President Bill Donohue discusses how the organization felt in the past saying, ”We took no objection to art that protested the commercialization of Christmas, but we also maintained that it was not obvious that the painting conveyed that message.” More recently, Cenedella and Donohue had the chance to exchange thoughts about the painting. “My personal conclusion on the matter, after years of considering different opinions,” Cenedella said, “is that Santa Claus has become the embodiment of Christmas, and to see him in place of Christ confuses and challenges those who have accepted a myth in place of what is considered the most important person in human history.” Donohue replied, “We are not far apart. I take him at his word — the message he seeks to convey is indeed the commercialization of Christmas. I agree that it is not an auspicious development.”
His painting will be on display until Tuesday, December 26th at Central Park Fine Arts, which is located at 211 West 57th Street, between 7th and Broadway.