On April 30, Odd Nerdrum‘s solo exhibition opened at Booth Gallery. It’s been five years since his work graced the United States, and it’s no wonder. The exhibition’s name, “Crime & Refuge”, I assume, eludes the difficulties the artist has dealt with consistently since the Norwegian government accused Nerdrum of tax evasion and fraud. Multiple media outlets have covered the complicated case, and the update is a sad one indeed. Although Nerdrum was not able to come to the opening, his works speak quite eloquently and vehemently. For those who are aware of his philosophies it may be understandable why the artist has been persecuted. I could argue that the nature of his work, his point of view transmitted into the visual, is exactly why the government has chosen to so completely indulge in the traumatic torment of Nerdrum, and in turn, those who care for him. The Kitsch Movement may have many critics who use their rhetorical skills to tear the Kitsch conception apart, but it is undeniable how powerful Nerdrum’s works are.
April 30 – July 30, 2016
325 W. 38th St. [Store #1] New York, NY 10018
Viewing these paintings is a visceral experience. One is immediately transported into a time and place that is foreign and unfamiliar, but speaks to the ubiquitous desire within that calls for an awakening; a broadened view of reality. Nerdrum’s world at once harks to the primitive, and esoteric. In “Twilight” a woman crouches to relieve herself in the woods; vast swaths of untamed land stretch behind awe-inspired individuals gasping at the sky in “Dawn”. Some paintings depict brutal torments, and violence: figures forever trapped in confrontation. Others are disfigured, and maimed, while some sleep, or swaddle babies; lovers in mid-embrace cloaked in Nerdrum’s well-known grey-violet mist. All of these portrayals rest within a piece of the Kitsch philosophy: a posteriori knowledge. This is knowledge of the senses with a complete disregard for that which is rational. Observational, experiential, and experimental activities and thinking is held as the most authentic way to exist. This point of view was made most famous by Kant’s essay “Critique of Judgment”, and it is still held to this day as one of the most important philosophical works. In a world that values rules, hard edge boundaries, and reason, it is no wonder that such a free and transcendental ideology would be questioned. People are not asked to observe, rather, they are told what already is.
The work “Dust Lickers” has always illustrated this theory most clearly for me. Often I have wondered whether the lack of message or meaning within the works of many contemporary artists elucidates the lack of substance, understanding, connection or significance within the personal lives of today’s populace. Many people consume things, like television, social media, pulp fiction, and expect it to fulfill their deepest desires but it is as if they are eating dust and expecting to feel full. The beings within the painting have glazed white eyes, bending towards the earth while their bodies behind them begin to dissolve.
Odd Nerdrum’s created world is one that delves into the primitive of human nature, illuminating that which is natural but now, perhaps, purposely repressed by society. His works manifest, for me, a place of primordial freedom, indeed, a more original state of being beyond the reach of societal expectations and compression. Here is a vision of humanistic ascent.
This is not entertaining fodder for mass appeal, but it is beautiful, and honest. This man has offered his perspective and life in an intensely resplendent oeuvre. I ask you to pay your respects at Booth Gallery, the staff of which have done a magnificent job of showcasing and supporting the artists work. This is an impressive and stunning exhibition not to be missed.