Movement starts to hail Odd Nerdrum

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One high-profile Norwegian artist has launched an effort to secure national acclaim for another, Norwegian figurative artist Odd Nerdrum, by urging that Nerdrum be allowed to live in the country’s honorary home for leading artists called Grotten in Oslo.

Odd Nerdrum has called his work "kitsch" but it commands high prices. PHOTO: The Nedrum Institute

Artist Vebjørn Sand wrote a column in newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend calling on Norway’s artistic establishment — and not least the state officials who will decide who will be the next to move into Grotten — to give Nerdrum the privilege. “Our most international and considerable artist should be honored with the state’s artist’s residence Grotten,” Sand wrote.

It’s by no means clear whether Nerdrum would want to live in the historic house, built by Henrik Wergeland and soon to become vacant following the death of its most recent resident, composer Arne Nordheim. Nerdrum left Norway in a huff several years ago, moved to Iceland, and vowed in 2002 to never speak to Norwegian media again. He returned in 2007 but has never granted an interview locally apart from one in an art magazine last year.

“There was something that irritated him, that he was misquoted,” Jan Åke Pettersson of the Haugar Vestfold Art Museum told newspaper Dagbladet last spring. “I can’t quite remember what it was.” It was Pettersson who delivered Nerdrum’s boycott announcement and that he would also be staying away from the opening of that summer’s exhibit in Vestfold, where Nerdrum has a home.

Since then Nerdrum has rarely been in the Norwegian media, after being a media darling of sorts — some might say publicity hound — throughout the 1990s. Nerdrum was often seen wandering around the Majorstuen and Uranienborg neighborhoods of Oslo, where he lived, in flowing robes and he figured prominently at local exhibits. He seemed to enjoy attention in Norway at that point, before he left the country.

His stature as an artist has continued to grow, and Sand argued in his column that Nerdrum (actually born in Sweden in 1944 but only because he resistance-fighter mother was in exile there at the end of the war years) is the greatest living artist in the world. Sand began his column by quoting artist Andrew Wyeth, who wrote in a letter to Nerdrum in 2003 that he considered him to be the world’s greatest contemporary painter and that he was proud to have Nerdrum as his friend.

So now the state residence will soon be available, since composer Nordheim’s widow will be moving out of the house this spring. Sand thinks Norway should welcome him with open arms, despite his rocky relations with Norway and Norwegians’ rocky relations with him.

“Is Nerdrum a giant … who is painful to have around?” Sand asked rhetorically, “one of those we avoid while they live, but who we later create national monuments and tourist attractions out of?

“Shall we take Andrew Wyeth at his word and recognize that Nerdrum is the greatest painter alive?” challenged Sand, adding that not only should Nerdrum be invited to live in Grotten: “The public sector or the business world should invest a few hundred million and build a spectacular Nerdrum Museum in Oslo. That would be an international sensation.”

Sand claimed he had lunch with Nerdrum in New York just before Christmas, so perhaps he cleared his proposal with Nerdrum before sending his column to Aftenposten. A decision on who, among many other candidates, will be invited to live in Grotten is due to be announced by the Ministry of Culture later this year. An exhibit of his self-portraits, meanwhile, is scheduled to open at the Edsvik Konsthall in Stockholm in the fall.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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