Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, who styles his surreal-kitschy work after the Old Masters, has encountered some legal troubles that seem, well, pretty odd. The discovery of a large amount of money stored in a safety deposit box in Austria has prompted charges that he failed to pay the full amount of taxes on $2.5 million of income between 1998 and 2002. Last Wednesday, August 17, Nerdrum was sentenced to two years in prison without bail. And the cruelest twist of all is that the fine print of Norwegian law might force him not to paint while incarcerated, reports Norway International Network.
Oslo's district court found Nerdrum guilty of aggravated fiscal fraud, with the crime being defined as "aggravated," CNN explains, because the artist "put significant work into hiding his assets, especially by placing a large quantity of money in a safety deposit box." Nerdrum argues that he secreted the questionable money as an emergency reserve meant to pay out possible refunds to collectors. Apparently, a series of paintings Nerdrum created in the 1980s were produced with an experimental medium that proved unstable, leading some buyers to ask for their money back.
Nerdrum has pleaded not guilty and will file an appeal. As for his side of the story, the artist told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that he already paid half of of the disputed taxes in 1998, and finished paying the rest in 2002. Nerdrum said that he is "not good with numbers," and left the tax preparation to his accountant.
Unfortunately, should the artist go to jail, he will be unable to paint, as Norwegian law forbids prisoners from pursuing "business activities." Since Nerdrum's primary occupation is painting, the creative act would effectively be off limits to him while he served out his term.
The Norwegian art community has spoken out against the harshness of the court's decision. Art professor ivind Storm Bjerke has called the prison term "strict," while editor and publisher Anders Heger has expressed concerns over artists being expected "to file tax returns like those of large businesses." But whatever you think of the sentence, the fact that Nerdrum might not be allowed to make art is a little kooky.