Odd Nerdrum, Awaiting Jail Time for Tax Fraud, Barred From Leaving Norway

Tax woes continue to plague the artist.

Odd Nerdrum, Running Bride. Image: Courtesy of Booth Gallery, New York.
Odd Nerdrum, The Bridge. Image: Courtesy of Booth Gallery, New York.

Odd Nerdrum, The Bridge. Image: Courtesy of Booth Gallery, New York.

Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum is having his first solo show in the US in five years but he will be prohibited from attending the opening.

Art dealer Casey Gleghorn, who is director of the Booth Gallery in midtown Manhattan, told artnet News that the Nerdrum show, titled “Crime and Refuge,” is set to open April 30. However,  he learned within recent days that Nerdrum is unable to travel to the US after unsuccessful appeals in a long-running tax fraud case that may finally land the artist in jail.

Odd Nerdrum, Running Bride. Image: Courtesy of Booth Gallery, New York.

Odd Nerdrum, Running Bride.
Image: Courtesy of Booth Gallery, New York.

The artist pleaded unsuccessfully to be allowed to serve his sentence at home since he suffers from Tourette syndrome, among other health issues, Gleghorn says.

The case, which dates back at least five years, is extraordinarily complicated. Gleghorn told artnet News that the trouble started when some of Nerdrum’s paintings began to re-liquify starting around 1989. Nerdrum had attempted to make his own “Maroger” medium, a mixture of cooked oil, lead flakes, and mastic, that allows for paint to be manipulated for a longer time. Apparently the component that failed was the mastic which Nerdrum “had been misguided to [use] by a Norwegian conservator,” according to Gleghorn.

Nerdrum attempted to repaint the compositions as replacements for those that had “melted” between 1989 and 2002. But Norweigan officials, Gleghorn says, taxed the artist for both the originals, which the artist wrote off as a loss, and the replacements. In the late 1990s, when the artist joined New York’s Forum Gallery, the gallery reportedly negotiated to retain a percentage of his commission as security against the melting paintings.

artnet reached out to Forum Gallery for comment. Associate director Jillian Casey wrote in an email: “We do indeed still work with Odd Nerdrum, but we do not represent him exclusively, and we know nothing specific of his travel plans, legal difficulties or exhibition prospects at any galleries.”

Gleghorn maintains in an email that the “main evidence against Nerdrum is that he and his accountant did not report this check, held mutually in trust as income. A notarized agreement between Odd and the gallery was offered as evidence (and ignored).”

On August 17, 2011, district courts in Norway sentenced the artist to two years in jail. The artist appealed the sentence, but in June 2012, the court of appeals increased the time to two years and ten months, after prosecutors claimed that the artist had made great efforts to hide his assets from the Norwegian government.

Odd Nerdrum, Contra natura (1988-90), is the most expensive work by the artist at auction. It sold for $231,000 in 2007. Image: Courtesy of Bruun Rasmussen.

Odd Nerdrum, Contra natura (1988-90), is the most expensive work by the artist at auction. It sold for $231,000 in 2007.
Image: Courtesy of Bruun Rasmussen.

In 2013, the Supreme Court in Oslo ruled that the evidence did not support the verdict, thanks to research from Anders Fjellberg, a journalist from Dagbladet, who retrieved Icelandic documents (where Nerdrum had moved) and to Austria, to collect statements as evidence.

Fjellberg reportedly supplied documents including correspondence over an Austrian bank statement, Icelandic tax returns, and income which showed that the court had counted Nerdrum’s income several times.

The case then went back to appeals court, where the final decision was one year in prison and eight months of house arrest. artnet News reached out to Fjellberg for comment. He told us in an email: “I have not heard about that specific issue—regarding Nerdrum not being allowed to enter the US. But as far as I know, he is still waiting to serve time for the tax fraud case.” He continued, “His sentence was heavily reduced, but he still has to serve a year in prison. [The case] is a bit of a mess and a complicated matter.”

According to the artnet Price Database, a total of 119 works by Odd Nerdrum have come up at auction over the years. Of these, 43 works, or 36 percent, have failed to sell.

The highest price ever paid at auction is $231,000, set at Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen in 2007, for Contra Natura (1988-90). The second highest price is just under $170,000, set at Sotheby’s London in June 2007 for The Animal Stone (1987). The lowest price, however, is a mere $465, paid at Grev Wedels Plass Auksjoner AS in 2010, for a lithograph, Kjaerlighetspar.

artnet News also reached out to Nerdrum’s attorney, John Christian Elder, but did not receive an immediate response.


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