Friday, February 23, 2018

Odd Nerdrum (by Yixin Lin)

Odd Nerdrum is a controversial Norwegian kitsch painter who previously served time in prison for tax evasion. Born in Sweden in 1944, he largely taught himself Renaissance painting but used his masterful but dated technique in support of social commentary.

Running Bride, 2007.
Oil on canvas, 22 x 19 x 2 inches.
Image: Courtesy of Booth Gallery, New York.

Ever the provocateur, he wrote the famous manifesto On Kitsch, which spawned a whole movement rejecting the term "artist" in favor of "kitsch painter." Adherents of this movement use Old Masters (pre-1800) style technique but for emotionally provocative imagery, and declare kitsch as an independent entity from art, reflecting Nerdrum's dissatisfaction with the direction of modern art.

Twins with Knives, 1991.
Oil on canvas, 28 x 46 in.
Image: Courtesy of Wiki Art.
His art is characterized by Rembrandt-esque technical mastery with exciting, emotionally-laden imagery. The style and technique evokes the stolid, relatively traditional world of the Old Masters, but the subject matter often uses contemporary references and allusions; this mismatch of eras, borne out of Nerdrum's distaste for the direction of modern art, creates a unique atmosphere.

Infant, 1982.
Oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 29 1/2 in.
Image: Courtsey of Fine Art America.
In 2011, he was convicted of tax evasion and (after a series of appeals) spent a year in prison, during which time he could not paint as that is considered "business activity" due to his profession, which is not permitted in Norwegian prison.

Odd Nerdrum in Norwegian court. Image from
I was inspired to write about this fascinating artist not only due to his odd name, which immediately grabbed my attention on the shelves of Lilly Library, but his interesting backstory which paints a picture a revolutionary and outcast as well as an "artist" (though he himself would prefer the term "kitsch-painter"). His defiance of traditional art norms (as well as societal norms) and his time in prison serve to accentuate his incredibly provocative art which blends modern commentary with olden-days style.

Works Cited
Berglund, Nina. “Artist Can't Paint in Prison.” Artist Can’t Paint in Prison, Norways News in English, 11 Aug. 2011,

Nerdrum, Odd, and Bjørn Li. Odd Nerdrum: Themes: Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures. Press Publishing, 2007.

Nerdrum, Odd. “The Kiss, 2002 - Odd Nerdrum.”, 1 Jan. 1970,

Pereira, Lorenzo. “Odd Nerdrum Summoned to Prison - NYC Exhibition Attendance Cancelled.” Odd Nerdrum Summoned to Prison - NYC Exhibition Attendance Cancelled, Widewalls, 21 Apr. 2016,

Richard, Vine. Odd Nerdrum: Paintings, Sketches, and Drawings. Gyldendal, 2002.

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