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Controversial Santa painting is coming to town

Santa Claus is coming to town and Robert Cendella is hanging him on a cross.

Cendella’s controversial artwork “The Presence of Man,” which features Santa being crucified above a sea of presents, rubbed some people the wrong way when it debuted 20 years ago. Now it’s back. And one of the work’s biggest critics feels a little different this time around.

Confidential has learned that Cendella has booked the Window at Central Park Fine Arts from Dec. 18 to 26 to display his suffering Santa — just in time for the holidays. The gallery is walking distance from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

The painting, currently displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., is celebrating its 30th anniversary. When it first appeared in the window of the venerable Art Students League on W. 57th St. in 1997 — 10 years after it was created — the Catholic League asked the school to remove the piece, claiming that it was “unnecessarily offensive, especially at this time of year.”

Cendella maintained that the painting was misunderstood.

“I didn’t replace Christ with Santa Claus: Commercialism and Capitalism did,” Cendella wrote in a response at the time. “I have always wanted this painting to hang in St. Patrick’s cathedral on Christmas Eve.”

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Artist Robert Cenedella is bringing his painting of Santa on a Cross to Midtown. 

(Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for CAVU Pictures &)

This time around, Donohoe agrees with Cendella’s assertion that commercialism has skewed the meaning of Christmas, but “that it was not obvious that the painting conveyed that message.”

Donahoe also said that artistic sensibilities aside, he and Cendella “are not far apart” on the actual topic of Christmas.

“Will I protest his Santa crucified? No,” Donahoe said. “Good intentions, while not dispositive, are important when assessing such matters. Also Cenedella’s willingness to engage me is much appreciated. Besides, I save my real salvos for egregious attacks on Catholicism.”

Anyone who really wants to see the painting disappear forever can buy it off Cendella. He’s selling it for $ 5 million.

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