Odd Nerdrum, Painter of the North
Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art
On view through December 10, 2023
From the Museum:
The Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art invites you to the exhibition “Odd Nerdrum, Painter of the North.” Heavily influenced by classical painters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio, Odd Nerdrum (b. 1944) has become one of the most accomplished Norwegian painters since Edvard Munch (1864–1944).
A defining moment in his early years was seeing Rembrandt’s painting “The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis” in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm. This consolidated his artistic route, bringing him into opposition with the understanding of art among his contemporaries. “to make a long story short, I would paint myself into isolation,” he later acknowledged. But isolation from contemporaries was swapped for the company of classical masters. Other influences on his work are Masaccio, Titian, Pieter Bruegel, Millet, as well as the less apparent Henry Fuseli and Lars Hertervig.
Odd Nerdrum is now represented in some of the most important collections in the world. Among them, the National Gallery in Oslo, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the New Orleans Museum of Art in New Orleans, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in San Diego, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Nerdrum’s painting is an attempt to rebuild the relationship with the tradition of old painting, broken in the second half of the 19th century when the term modernity began to be used in its contemporary sense as praising novelty and the feverish search for the new. By breaking with the avant-garde, Nerdrum opposes such thinking and, as it were, repairs the avant-garde rupture.
In 1998, Nerdrum established the “Kitsch Movement” while referring to Hans Reimann’s concept that the term “kitsch” originated in the mid-19th century in Munich studios, and that the purpose of its use was to attack past culture in order to open up space for a completely new art. By identifying with the concept of kitsch, Nerdrum is not so much deprecating his painting, but rather rejecting the oppositional categories of kitsch and modernity/avant-garde as a false tension constitutive of today’s art world.
In Nerdrum’s paintings, Mankind is situated in an abysmal, mythological world beyond what we usually associate with ‘history’, time, and space. We are apparently presented to a completely new world and a language of signs and symbols, somehow imitating that of myths and tales.
People are dressed in hides or ancient fabric, often almost naked. They are equipped with simple instruments and tools. They seem to live in a predatory stage, with violence, and danger apparently never far away. They are seen being transported, together in closeness, caring, or consoling each other. But this is not some earlier version of mankind; these people are us, Nerdrum’s contemporaries, only stripped of our modern outfits. Time is absent. They are inhibiting ‘an eternal present’. Not post-apocalyptical, not after some global destruction, but rather as we live today in our essence.
No adherence to progressive ideas can be found in the works and life of Odd Nerdrum. The nature of Man, in his view, is unchanging. In some circles, this will be considered rebellious and nonconformist. The undefinable landscapes and dressing underscore this term, ‘nature of man’; the scenery invokes questions of transcendence. What is it that constitutes us, that shapes who and what we are.
These humans are dislocated in time and space, and so are we.
In a retrospective line from The Cloud (1985) to the haunting No Witness (2012), eternity and destruction is blended in metaphorical comments on a world observed from the beyond.