Odd Nerdrum – the Odd Master of Kitsch


Odd Nerdrum was born in Hälsingborg, Sweden in 1944. He was a student at The Academy of Art in Oslo at the time when Modernism made its delayed entry to Norway. During a study trip to Stockholm organized by the academy, he broke out from the group of students who had gathered round the works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the Museum of Modern Art. Nerdrum headed off  to the Rembrandt Hall in The National Museum and was standing spellbound in front of Claudius Civilis. It was a turning point  in his life and he decided to learn painting in the manner of Rembrandt.

The decision immediately brought him into conflict with the students and professors of the academy. None of them mastered the old techniques and all of them thought his project was reactionary and obnoxious.  He left the academy and started to study the old masters.

Nerdrum felt a particular affinity to Caravaggio as well as Rembrandt.  Caravaggio, because of the realism and implacable, dramatic temperament reflected in his works, and Rembrandt for his picturesque substance and patience with man. The two extremes would later shape the elasticity in the universe of Nerdrum´s pictures.

Breakthrough and Rebellion

The 1960s became the decade when Nerdum was drawn into studying the world of picturesque problems as well as being the decade when he became well known in public. In the early 1970s, his studies would come to amaze the audience where his capabilities and skill spoke for themselves through his paintings and drawings. He would soon emerge from among the group of young painters to become one of the leading figures  to revolt against the dogma of Modernism. With basis in contemporary social conflicts and with sympathy for the vulnerability of the individual, he created motives that made him to the most mentioned and abused painter of Scandinavia.

Odd Nerdrum THe Murder of Andreas Baader 1977It was a national happening when Nerdrum exhibited his last work at the annual Autumn Exhibition in Oslo. “What kind of motive is he going to show this year?”  Among his most remarkable works from this period are “Spring”, “Back”, “The Murder of Andreas Baader” and “Refugees at Sea”.


“Refugees at Sea” appeared to be the last work relating to a contemporary social context. In the 1980s Nerdrum´s motives would go through a fundamental change. Commonly it is recognised that the development began with a painting entitled “Transfiguration”, showing a black man rising from the ground in a waste land, his face is enlightened as if he has just awaked from a deep sleep of eternity and now realized the world for the first time. He is surrounded by a group of sleeping persons who are painted in the shape of cocoons – like unborn individuals.  With this painting Nerdrum was entering a new level of creation and was taking the definite step into the spiritualistic painting that has occupied him ever since.

During the following years and by the means of classic-masterly techniques he developed motives that are far away from contemporary issues as they are from traditions of the past. Nerdrum was creating a so far unseen universe of pictures.  Rumours about this strange painter started to spread from Scandinavia to Europe, the USA and Japan. From the eighties and till today,  Nerdrum has exhibited frequently, particularly in the USA, and mature works like Sleeping Twins, Man bitten by a Snake, Old Man with Dead Maiden, Selfportrait with Eyes Closed and The Savior of Painting , just to mention a few, have been purchased by public museums and private collectors. Nerdrum´s works have attracted public attention and have been a matter of mention in newspapers and art-magazines. He has made several lectures at American art-academies.

Odd Nerdrum. The Water Protectors (1985)Kitsch

In spite of this progress Nerdrum understood that he was like an alien in the art-world, working completely beside the definition of modern art. In his lecture at the opening of the retrospective exhibition in The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in 1999, he took a definite leave with art and defined himself as a kitsch-painter and demanded to be evaluated according to the standards he established as the ruling ones in the world of kitsch. In the beginning, the distinction was considered to be a joke, but after a while the public realized that Nerdrum was being earnest.  Later on he has, from his new position, published several articles and books on the subject and thus he has presented the perhaps most radical critique of the culture of today, when it comes to the field of art.


Source: The Nerdrum Institute

Paintings from the top:

– Self-portrait: “The Prophet”

– The Murder of Andres Baader (1977)

– The Water Protectors (1985)

Categories: Art, Culture

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