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 as...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.