Monday, December 5, 2011

Odd Nerdrum

by Arnie Fenner

A few months back artist Odd Nerdrum [b 1944] was found guilty of tax evasion in his native Norway and sentenced to two years in prison: the ruling and sentence are being appealed. The artist moved from Norway to Iceland in 2002, reportedly now lives in France (he was at the Louvre with assistants and students when the sentence was handed down in Oslo), and has boycotted Norwegian media for years. Nerdrum has said that he felt the Norwegian state has been trying to destroy him, with the tax claims against him “pushing me towards suicide.” While testifying at his trial he had trouble answering the prosecutor’s questions about sales and deposits reportedly in the millions of dollars, saying “I’m not so good with numbers. Do you know much about Venetian turpentine? No, but I don’t expect that either.”

Now, Nerdrum is interesting for any number of reasons, not the least for his 1998 manifesto On Kitsch, which takes the stance that art should be viewed and understood under his definition of kitsch rather than art Instead of seeing the description as derogative, he began to argue for kitsch as a positive term used as a superstructure for figurative, non-ironic, and narrative painting. He was once asked to define what was "lacking in contemporary art" and Nerdrum ticked off the following list:
  1. The open, trustful face,
  2. The sensual skin,
  3. Golden sunsets, and
  4. The longing for eternity.

It's hard to overcome long-held perceptions and use of descriptive language, particularly in the art world...and I'm not sure I entirely agree with Nerdrum's viewpoint in the first place. But I do know that I like his work. A lot. And I would much prefer to see him pay a fine and taxes owed (if owe them he does) than to cool his heels in the clink.


  1. Reminds me how important it is to abide by the law. Such wonderful talent and exuberance of life can be squelched by temporal oversights. I hope to keep my own life upright in a way that I can always be free to create without the stress of extenuating circumstances breathing down my neck. Thanks for the post and insights into this interesting artist's life.

  2. If he HAS broken the law, and he DOES go to prison, I hope they let him paint, could be interesting to see what prison does to his composition, will he paint golden sunsets and the hope for eternity, or the soul confined.The oppressions of man and the tortures of rotting flesh. Not to be heartless, just matter of fact. I do hope he avoids prison. although the paintings he does during his stretch would probably do quite well on the market... I kid...a little bit.

    Great post!

  3. As far as I understand it, hearing from his students and friends, like Richard Thomas Scott, Nerdrum has paid the taxes that were due, but he is still being convicted. We'll see how this plays out.

  4. I read somewhere that while in prison, he was NOT going to be allowed to paint.

  5. Very interesting post- while I agree that if allowed to paint in prison his work could turn even more fantastic I would hate to see it happen. There's a certain level of emotion his art already screams and if he were to be pushed further it would definitely show but I'm not sure how well he would be able to cope.

  6. I find it very hard to believe that people aren't allowed to paint in Norweigian prisons. It's not like they would put him in some high security facitity with nazi cop killers. I saw Nerdrum on Swedish television. He claims he is a victim of unfortunate circumstances. He says that he made a lot of painting using some experimential medium that melted off the canvas after two years. So he had to repaint all the works he had sold during that period. I forget the details but somewhere in the distribution of this second round of paintings the Norwegian tax authourities felt that things were not alltogether as they should be, and they found several million Norweigan crowns in a Swiss bank account. Sorry if this information only serves to confuse you guys. I can't be more specific. Cheers.

  7. To anonymous: they will not allow him to paint in prison, because he is not allowed to exercise his profession in prison, and painting is his profession. I have never heard or read anything about a Swiss bank account. He had deposited some money in an Austrian bank account, which is, however, something altogether different from a Swiss bank account: having money in Austria is the same as having it in any other European Union country, it doesn't afford any of the protection offered by Swiss laws.

  8. Ah, ok. Austrian. Yea, i wasn't really paying attention. Partly because I felt he was somewhat full of shit. Bu anyway, what a character. Not being allowed to paint seems kinda harsh anyway. Surely they cannot prevent him from sketching. What are they gonna do? Not let him use pen and paper?

  9. Gee, I thought prisons were meant for punishment, not a place to exercise your creativity. Myabe he'll get the chance to work some magic with a broom or mop. ~Gary

  10. I don't think artists should view the prospect of prison with much horror so long as they are allowed access to art materials. To withhold art materials from an incarcerated artist would be tantamount to torture. Richard Dadd did most of his fairy painting in prison after he went mad and killed his dad. (Secure hospital, technically). I can't believe they would not let an artist paint in prison. They let writers write, famous examples including Mallory (Mort d' Arthur) Bunyan (Pilgrims' Progress), Cervantes (Don Quixote), Marco Polo (narrated travels), Oscar Wilde (De profundis), the Marquis de Sade (Justine) and Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf).

    By the way I once heard that artists don't have to pay tax in the Republic of Ireland. Anyone know if this is so?

  11. I think they've scrapped the no tax for artists in Ireland now, Gordon, due to the financial trouble they're in.


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