Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum was back in court on Wednesday, this time defending himself against a lawsuit filed by three art experts whom Nerdrum had appointed five years ago to lead The Nerdrum Institute. They’re suing him for compensation after he abruptly dissolved their partnership in 2011.
The Nerdrum Institute was set up to help Nerdrum and his wife, Turid Spildo, with marketing, exhibiting and selling Nerdrum’s art, so that Nerdrum could concentrate on his artistic endeavours. Nerdrum has been in legal trouble with tax collectors and gallery owners earlier regarding his art sales, and apparently felt it was time to rely on others who knew more about marketing, sales and exhibitions.
They included the former director for the National Museum in Norway, Allis Helleland, the former director of Kunsthuset, Kjell Wenstad, and art adviser Bjørn Li. The 10-year agreement signed in 2009 called for the institute, which they would run on Nerdrum’s behalf, to get a 50 percent commission on all sales.
Just two years later Spildo wrote a letter to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) claiming that the partnership was over. “No one can be forced to love,” Spildo wrote, to the surprise of Helleland, Wenstad and Li. “If one of the partners wants out, it’s over.” Not so, claimed the three other partners, and the legal conflict over the partnership and payments began.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Nerdrum was subjected to harsh criticism in the courtroom in Larvik, Telemark County, on Tuesday when his latest court case began. His three former partners are suing him for NOK 23 million in compensation for Nerdrum’s decision to cancel a contract that they claim couldn’t be cancelled.
On Wednesday Nerdrum fought back, claiming that Helleland had done a poor job promoting and selling his art. He claimed she had characterized his art, which has fetched high prices in the past and drawn comparisons to Rembrandt, as “bad” and that he couldn’t be sold into galleries anywhere. “She (Helleland) said I was totally unknown and had no position abroad,” Nerdrum testified. “She said I was nothing. She psyched me out.”
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Helleland responded by saying that “I just wanted to make Nerdrum clear that he was not in the same class as the big, international art names that museums will gladly exhibit.”
‘Not a smart businessman’
Nerdrum also testified that Wenstad had said it would be easy to dissolve the partnership, while Bjørn Li demonstratively shook his head in court. “I would never have signed the agreement if I thought I couldn’t get out of it,” Nerdrum said.
He claimed that he’d relied on the institute because he was acquainted with Wenstad and viewed Li as a friend. “I’m not a smart businessman,” Nerdrum said. “I get help from accountants and people around me. I know that agreements are dangerous and I’m careful in signing them.” He said he was satisfied with the work done by Wenstad and Li, but not Helleland.
NRK reported that she countered she had never been accused of working too little, pointing to her international experience. “I am very disappointed by the broken agreement,” she said.
The Nerdrum Institute’s lawyer argued that it had done an important and good job for Nerdrum, and called several witnesses to testify to that effect. It ultimately will be up to the local judge to determine whether Nerdrum owes his former partners compensation. Nerdrum is already facing a prison term for tax evasion but has appealed to Norway’s Supreme Court.