WHO IS ODD NERDRUM AND WHY DOES HE CALL HIS ART KITSCH?

We love Odd Nerdrum.  He is a Norwegian artist of great acclaim.  We first noticed him in the ’90’s.  His paintings are nothing short of magnificent.  He does figures in a stunningly provocative way, and he paints them in timeless, often surreal backgrounds.  His work is what we imagine David Lynch would have painted if he’d gone on to be a fine artist rather than a film maker.  We were intrigued to learn that David Bowie owns an Odd Nerdrum painting.

Nerdrum is a master, but what we thought was odd about him was that he calls his own art kitsch.  We always thought kitsch was a derogatory term, especially in the context of fine art.  You know... things like pink flamingos and kewpie dolls... cheap and mass-produced after World War II in a shoddy and tasteless fashion.  Sometimes kitsch rises to the level of cool or camp.  But we found it bizarre to think of Odd Nerdrum’s work as kitsch.  So why does Odd Nerdrum use the word kitsch to describe his own work?  It’s an interesting story that is important because it illustrates something that has been going on in the art world for decades... a bias, even trashing of representational art by art critics, such as Clement Greenberg, who went so far as to equate kitsch with all academic art.

The story of Odd begins when he studied art as a young man in Oslo and his father, an accomplished artist himself, told him that if he wanted to be a successful artist, he’d better forget about representational painting.  He was getting the same advice from the Art Academy of Oslo, where he was studying, which was moving in the direction of abstract art.  “I saw that I was in the process of making a choice that would end in defeat. By choosing those qualities that were so alien to my own time, I had to give up at the same time the art on which the art of our time rests. I had to paint in defiance of my own era without the protection of the era's superstructure. Briefly put I would paint myself into isolation.”  Critics were panning representational art, some even calling it kitsch.  So Odd Nerdrum did a brave and wonderful thing.  He declared that if representational art is kitsch, then his work is kitsch!   A manifesto.  We adhere to it, and it has become a big part of the way we think about art.  Long live Odd Nerdrum... and long live kitsch.