Artist Stirs Rebukes, Support for Satirical Santa

Art Bastard screenshot of Bob Cenedella

By Julie Pendray

Satire is not always easily understood or valued. But longtime New York City artist Robert (Bob) Cenedella, 77, hopes that this year his bold “Presence of Man” painting, depicting Santa on the cross at Calvary, will be seen for what it is.

Many of the public were once again outraged this holiday season, when, on Christmas Eve, Cenedella brought out his piece, originally displayed in 1997, for public view. This time, he placed it in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral right before Catholic Christmas Eve mass. However, his point was missed by some and not appreciated by others.

“Presence of Man” was first shown in a window of Art Students League of New York City. Cenedella is still an art teacher there, where he discovered his talents as a student. His decades of work and his life are the subject of a documentary, “Art Bastard,” which won Best Documentary and Best Documentary Director at Idyllwild International Film Festival in California in 2016, as well as Best Documentary in Manchester, U.K. later that year. The film, depicting Cenedella’s private world, plus his paintings about life, politics, nature and the environment has been shown throughout the United States, as well as in Canada and Mexico. In 2017, it became a contender for an Oscar.

However, a prophet is not always recognized right in his own town.

Cenedella’s message, stated in some news accounts, is that the importance of Christ, whom he calls “the most important person in human history” has been replaced by myth, materialism and commercialism.

Some passersby outside the cathedral this year, however, felt that the content, timing and location of the display were “disturbing.” Some referred to the artist as a “piece of crap.” Yet, the president of the anti-defamation Catholic League said he now understands the piece and Cenedella’s intention.

Cenedella told SpecialsNotOnTheMenu after the event that he did hand out materials explaining his viewpoint to the public and media but that the information was ignored by some. He also said a lot of people paused to offer supportive comments. His students later gave him hugs for what he’d done, he said.

SpecialsNotOnTheMenu interviewed Cenedella when he visited Idyllwild for the 2016 film festival. To read that story, click here.

To read about the Christmas Eve display of “Presence of Man,” click on the news story links below. To read more about the artist, click on

New York Daily News

New York Post

Fox News

Daily Mail (UK)


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