Mark Rothko, Norman Rockwell, Ai Weiwei & Robert Cenedella
The Art Students League of New York (ASL) has mounted a three-venue exhibition of works by league teachers and students, celebrating the school’s storied 140-year history. “The Masters: Art Students League Teachers and their Students,” installed at Hirschl & Adler, 511 Projects, and at the ASL’s in-house gallery, includes paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints by major 20th century ASL master artists. Among the world-class artists who have studied and taught at the League are Norman Rockwell, Mark Rothko, Ai Weiwei, Lee Krasner, Arshile Gorky, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Cenedella, whose piece in the show is a tribute to the late German George Grosz, under whom he studied at the ASL in the 1950s. The exhibit will run from December 1st– November 1st.
“George Grosz in America”
Cenedella’s 1973 portrait, titled “George Grosz in America,” is the only painting he did from 1965 to 1975, a period when he had given up painting for other endeavors. “It’s also a self-portrait, even though it’s a portrait of him,” Cenedella says. “You never know quite why you do certain things, but it was something I needed to do, and now with this show it becomes an important link.”
Grosz was his mentor – Cenedella came to the ASL after being expelled from the High School of Music and Art because of a satirical article he’d written about the atom bomb drills of the period. “I wasn’t going to get into a college without a high school diploma, so I went to the Art Students League,” he says. Grosz was teaching there after being expelled from Berlin by the Nazis.
He and Grosz were two people in an atmosphere where they were accepted. “He could not have, let’s say, gone to Yale, because he wouldn’t have had the credentials he might need. But the place he could go was the Art Students League and that alone makes it very special for me.” In 1988, Cenedella returned to teach at the ASL, and is the George Grosz Chair at the school.
Pop Art and Andy Warhol
Cenedella’s varied and colorful career included a successful poster company, and commissioned works for companies like Bacardi, Absolut Vodka and the famous mural in the restaurant Le Cirque. Known primarily as a satirical artist, Cenedella works in a range of genres, including still life, landscape, sculpture, and experimental pieces that he does in Maine where he spends his summers. “I don’t pigeonhole myself. I think as an artist you push limits in all directions.” Cenedella’s life and work was the subject of the award-winning 2015 documentary, “Art Bastard.” His 1965 show “Yes Art,” in which he threw freshly-boiled spaghetti onto a canvas, sold art by the pound, and gave out S&H green stamps, was a satirical comment on Pop Art and Andy Warhol. “It went viral. Except it wasn’t viral in those days, it was in the newspapers or on TV and the radio.”
Saatchi & Saatchi
In 1988, Saatchi & Saatchi removed Cenedella’s controversial painting “Presence of Man,” depicting a crucified Santa Claus, from a show at the company’s headquarters. That was the same day the ASL called and invited him to come and teach. Later, the ASL displayed that very same Santa Claus painting for a month in its 57th Street window, despite threats. “Censorship is something the League would not involve themselves in, and that’s also unique, especially today. The League is just a very special place. No one tells a teacher how to teach, and it’s very democratically run.”