Posts Tagged ‘ron mueck’


I learned about Odd Nerdrum in 2006. I decided I need to learn more about this artist.

My first source of information was the Internet. I found many images at www.nerdrum.com and also some links to books and articles about the artists and as well some written by the artist. Another website www.oddnerdrum.com by Martina Hamilton, Nerdrum’s dealer, also had images of his paintings, charcoal drawings and prints. You can also find Nerdrum on the website of Forum Gallery, a gallery that represents him in New York and Los Angeles www.forumgallery.com

             In February 2007 I went to New York and visited the Forum Gallery on 5th Avenue to see Odd Nerdrum’s exhibition. There were eleven new works by him, all large oil paintings on canvas. The exhibition made a great impression on me. I also bought a book about Odd Nerdrum that included good quality images of his work and a full description of his artistic life (1).

             Forum Gallery represents many interesting artists. There are famous figurative painters, such as William Beckman, Susan Hauptman or Alan Feltus. Others are not as famous, but very interesting artists, such as Wade Schuman, Maria Tomasula and Andrea Smith. Forum Gallery represents artists of a wide range of styles and directions but it seems to me that their main focus is on representational art and artists exhibiting high skill level (2).


It’s hard to describe initial impression that Odd Nerdrum paintings create. The first word that comes to mind is “odd”. Ironically it’s also the artist’s name. Most of his latest paintings are of very large scale (Drifting – 80 1/8” x 111 7/8 “; Dissolving – 39 3/4“x 28 1/8  ; String – 83 3/4“x 72 1/4“), show deep space, with human figures floating and glowing in the dark among the stars in mysterious light. His floating people are very realistically painted but have a mysterious look. Of course, it is because of the way the figures are represented floating in space with all earthly connections removed: clothing, gravity, and landscape. Nerdrum creates this mysterious look with his use of Old Master’s technique. Like in old Renaissance paintings the background of his paintings is black or very dark. The figures represented very three-dimensionally with the use of chiaroscuro. An interesting difference between Nerdrum’s chiaroscuro and Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro is that in Nerdrum’s work we see figures lighted like there are two light sources: one is warm and another is cool. We see one part of the figure lighted with the blue light and being very monochromatic with blue tones. Another part of the body would be lit with just the “ordinary” light, the light you can see in Rembrandt’s paintings. In fact, Odd Nerdrum spent a lot of time studying Old Master’s techniques, especially Rembrandt’s. We see many similar characteristics in the way Nerdrum is applying paint with that of the Old Masters. He is exploring different qualities of paint: thick, vivid, spontaneous brushstrokes in the light areas and thin, flat in the dark. It is interesting that in some ways Nerdrum’s use of paint like Rembrandt’s use of paint is similar to Abstract Expressionists use of paint. The difference is that Rembrandt and Nerdrum are using what seems to be uncontrollable brushstrokes in a very controlled manner in order to create high level of a verisimilitude and for Abstract Expressionists this was not important. They valued brushstrokes for themselves trying to avoid any subject matter.

It is necessary to address Nerdrum’s path to becoming an artist. Born in 1944 in Sweden by Norwegian parents Odd was sent to the private Rudolf Steiner school in Oslo in 1951. Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian artist and social philosopher who founded anthroposophism, an occult system based on the notion that mankind once lived in a dreamlike harmony with the universe, but had fallen into an inferior state of rational consciousness (3). Young Nerdrum decided to become an artist at the age of 7. He was impressed by the works of Botticelli and Goya (4).

In 1962 Odd Nerdrum began his studies at the National Academy of Art in Oslo. From his first days as an art student he placed himself in opposition to the late modernist aesthetic. Richard Vine writes that the very process of admission to the Academy immediately raised Nerdrum’s suspicions about the modern art: “Asked to submit three paintings for review he found that it was the last and least carefully executed entry that won highest praise from the admissions committee” (5). Another experience that permanently set his aesthetic attitude was the show of Modern American Art in Stockholm in the fall of 1962. The Robert Raushenberg’s combine titled Monogram made him feel “tremendous weariness and disgust” (6). All teaching in Oslo Art Academy was based on rejection of “conservative” old-fashioned figurative painting and admiration of modernist art. In these circumstances Odd Nerdrum turned into a conservative rebel. He believed that modern artists “no longer addressed the vital thoughts and passions of their fellow citizens” (7). In 1967 Nerdrum’s first solo show in Oslo attracted immediate attention “both for its “retrograde” figuration and for its exceptional painterly quality (8). He became a controversial celebrity. Most of his works of that period could be classified as “social realism”, exploring socio-economic issues. As he placed himself in the opposition to the late modernist aesthetics, Nerdrum adopted and taught himself Renaissance-style composition and painterly technique, choosing narrative figurative realism when figurative art was simply not acceptable in the major art world. His traditional way of painting earned him epithet “kitsch”. That is when in my opinion Nerdrum truly was hurt and thus invented his own world in his paintings. Since 1980s we can see on his paintings people dressed in pre-historic cloths involved in some strange rituals. Richard Vine pointed out that there could be a direct link to Nerdrum’s experience in the Steiner School where students were encouraged to learn kinesthetically – through singing and dancing, and performing dramatic enactments involving historical and fantasy costumes (9). On the other side Richard Vine notes the connection with the conceptual artist Joseph Beuys with whom Nerdrum studied after attending the Academy. Beuys was then developing a personal legend about him being a “WWII pilot shot down over a freezing wasteland and saved by Tartars who wrapped him in fat and felt and transported him to safety on a sled. Similar elements – a bleak land, nomadic bands, world at war, wordless acts of nurture or rescue – have appeared repeatedly in Nerdrum’s post 1980s canvases” (10).

It seems that in the paintings exhibited in the Forum Gallery Nerdrum is leaving behind the wide array of topics he explored in the past: hermaphrodites, dying, refugees, people defecating or exposing themselves. It seems that his interest is being drawn more to eternal topics: love, human life, cosmos. The very similar movement he made in the 1970s when he went away from the social-economic themes and started exploring more human topics like Love, Mother and Child. This was also when he started being accused of Kitsch.

Probably this time Nerdrum is not afraid of this mocking epithet. He started his own “mocking war” on modernist aesthetics and as his way to fight he proclaimed himself a “Kitsch Artist”. In 1998 on the opening of his exhibition in Museum of Modern Art in Oslo he delivered a speech “praising kitsch the antidote to a calcified modernism”, and declaring that “as a champion and practitioner of this despised genre – he is not now and had never been, an “artist” in the contemporary sense” (11). Obviously, Odd Nerdrum is becoming more and more involved in performance art, as in 2000, he performed his own play The Curatoriat where two characters: he and Edward Munch have a dialog over their shared mistreatment by kitsch-hated modernists (12).

We can find numerous links to different Kitsch sites from the Nerdrum.com. As we read in one of them: “Odd Nerdrum’s definition on Kitsch has following values: craft, the single individual and human emotions. The evaluation of its theme and timeless styles complexity is the possibility of grading Kitsch in high or low Kitsch. This is quite different from our low trash associations with Kitsch today” (13)

Interestingly, some works of Nerdrum make me think of Ron Mueck, another artist who I admire. These two absolutely different artists nevertheless have some similarities. Both had been attacked for their high skills. Both artists chose to represent people realistically but with an accent on the hidden sides of human nature. Some of their works is surprisingly similar. Nerdrum had done numerous drawings, etchings and paintings of swaddled babies in the 1990s. His works look very much like Mueck’s babies which were done after 2000. I am very curious to know if two artists were aware of one another’s work.

While learning about Odd Nerdrum’s definitions of Kitsch, while admiring his work, while thinking about some other contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, I started thinking that may be the next Big Art Movement of the World will be – The Kitsch? When the word kitsch will stand for art with an emphasis on artistic skill or emotion and humanity in art, which will be recognized by people without special degrees in art?



1.Vine R. Odd Nerdrum. Paintings, Sketches and Drawings.

2. Forum Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, New York, NY.

3. Vine R. Odd Nerdrum: Painter Provocateur/ in Odd Nerdrum. Paintings, Sketches and Drawings. p.26.

4. Ibid. p.30.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid. p.31.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid. p.37.

9. Ibid. p.26.

10. Ibid. p.37

11. Ibid. p.78.

12. You can find the text of the play at: http://www.nerdrum.com/kitsch/curatoriat

13. http://www.kitschforum.com/kitsch.html







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