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Kitsch Biennale 2010 in Palazzo Cini, Venice,

the painting "Sandra armed" by Odd Nerdrum exposed

among the masterpieces of the Cini collection:

the continuity of tha tradition.

" If you fall asleep on a horse , the horse will stop at the rocks.

Art is a car, kitsch is a horse. "

O. Nerdrum

Trying to explain in a few words the more than positive meaning that Odd Nerdrum wanted to reassign to the term "KITSCH", usually used to describe works never worthy of particular attention according to the criteria of the devious and so-called " fine arts " , is not an easy undertaking . I hope that the aphorism of the Master and the next illuminating essay written by the painter Jan-Ove Tuv, one of his elder students, may serve to clarify a bit the ideas for those who who are hearing about it for the first time .

Other argument essays and explanatory writings will follow about what in my opinion is one of the most interesting contemporary philosophical speech, having great potential for a positive action in our world and that is already reaping many benefits.

Massimo Tizzano


Edvard Munch had several houses. Coming to one of them in order to paint, he had often forgotten

the keys. So he had to find someone who could open the door. !e person concerned would

receive half a Krone for the job. But every now and then, Munch had forgotten money as well

At one such occasion, he tried giving away a print instead. Of course he meant well, but the reaction

was merciless. Accept such things? No thanks let me see the money!

In a similar situation, facing another locked door and without cash, he compensated his helper

with an etching. !is man, unable to say no, accepted. Finally home, he let his wife take care of

the matter. She stapled it onto the wall of the outdoor toilet, in the company of cut-outs from

illustrated magazines.

Later, the same man received a big painting as payment. Again he felt there was no choice, and

brought the piece of canvas home. His wife, helpful as always, stapled it onto the loft ceiling. As

next Christmas approached, she cleaned the house. !e painting was carefully burnt and the cutouts

thrown along with the print. New magazines had arrived, with new illustrations.

Inger Alver Gløersen describes this in her book !e Munch I met. It is the funniest thing, though.

Several times, as I have recounted the story, something strange has occurred: People start laughing.

Presumably they regard it as entertainment? Personally, I would be glad to relinquish accounts

like these, so we could focus on the works. However, such stories manifest the necessity of

respect and what happens when it is non-existent, or fades. Greek sculptures with heads, arms

and legs chopped off. A third of the 17th century painter Georges de la Tour`s works eradicated;

for centuries he did not have a name. Consequently, his works could not possibly be of any


!e Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset once said that the hearts of men remain the same. I believe

this is correct and further, that these hearts face a choice between two cultures.

!e first culture is based on a single tenet: quality and talent is measured by what you know. !is

culture always exists, but varies in strength. It is the precondition for an Ilya Repin, who became

the most celebrated painter of tsarist Russia. Even though he was of non-noble descent. His skills

could not be disregarded.

Repin`s work sprang from the European culture, in turn born out of seven centuries of Greek

Humanism. !is is a mindset which holds a painter to be more skilled the more he can breathe

life into what he paints. It is the story of Pygmalion, who created a marble sculpture so vivid that

she stepped down as a living woman.

!e most profound victory of this culture is that it made the talents of man his safety net.

!e other culture assigns grades according to who you know. !is path is also present in varying

degrees. A couple of years ago, the German magazine art interviewed several prominent curators.

!eir opinions were unanimous: Skill in handcraft is an outdated litmus test for judging quality

in art. In such a situation, the talent becomes dependant on personal sympathy or antipathy. !is

obviously affects the participants of this exhibition: !eir skills have become a disadvantage.

Notwithstanding, the contemporary art world experiences as little envy at the sight of their talents,

as the Christian iconoclasts envied the Greek sensuality. !e iconoclasts simply knew that it

was ideologically wrong. Assured by this, they could oust all respect for the ability to transform

stone into soft skin.

The comparison might seem exaggerated. Rembrandt`s paintings are not thrown onto the fire.

Rodin`s bronzes are not melted down or drowned at sea. And of course curators do not mind

old master works as long as they are executed by an old master. !e art world needs them as

forerunners of 21st century art. Contemporary masters would disarrange the official art history.

!ere would be no improvement if the development went from Rembrandt to Rembrandt.

Still, the curator is more cultivated than the traditional iconoclast. !e sanctions are more subtle.

A curator does not burn a beautiful portrait or crush a marble figure. He laughs; he does not

choose it for an exhibition. As a consultant, he gives advice not to buy such things. !e curator

knows that a sincere, figurative work is wrong ideologically. On the whole, this way of judging a

work is signified by how its qualities are never taken into consideration.

!e painters and sculptors in this catalogue share certain fundamental values. !eir discipline is

based on handcraft, the motifs are sincere and the faces are devoid of irony. !ey are united in a

quest for the archetypical, detached from time.

In order to attain this, one studies anatomy, composition, handling of paint and clay, etc. One

hears of Michelangelo`s forgery of a Greek Cupid figure. Upon his exposure, he received the

commission for the famed Bacchus his crime proved his skill! One smiles, thinking of Leonardo.

He bragged about a painting of the Madonna. She was so beautiful and vividly painted that

the customer implored him to paint over her religious attributes. !e man desired her, but was

plagued by feelings of guilt. In the end he had to send her away from his house.

And one hears that Michelangelo and Leonardo were great artists.

Yet, art shares the fate of many other words, in that its meaning is the exact opposite of what

one thinks. Anyone who seeks to know more, may find Larry Shiners !e Invention of Art helpful.

Originally, there were liberal arts (such as mathematics and logic) and mechanical arts (such as

navigation and gardening). Up until then, art had been a neutral term for discipline, science

or knowledge. It referred to rational knowledge, which could be learned and taught.

But then in the 1740`s - painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry and music were gathered

under the category fine arts. In and of itself, this was less grave. However, that all changed

as (mostly) German philosophers started discussing what values unified this new group of arts.

!ey were determined to separate them from the other groups, with the result that handcraft had

nothing to do with the matter - it seemed to supply the idea with a greater nimbus of spirituality.

In fact, it was made clear that the fine arts represented the opposite of handcraft. (To separate

this new meaning from the older, I will in the following write Art when referring to the fine

arts). !e philosopher Kant is unmistakably clear: You are only making Art when you do not

know what you are doing. !us creates a true genius. !is is the background for the admiring

tone of the phrase Oh, no-o it`s more than just handcraft!

But it did not stop at that. Gripping the audience emotionally was derided as barbaric. Kant

had an idea of the perfect, objective judgment, in which there was no room for sentimentality

or pathos. Art was to be contemplated with indifference.

Later, the philosopher Hegel said Art should reflect its time, and participate in progress. His

addition left little for the talent to rejoice in, as a work without relation to a time was rendered

worthless. Hegel identified progress with the unwinding of handcraft and sensual representation.

!ese apprehensions fertilize the laughter of the curator.

Yet Leonardo knew nothing of them. He was proud of his ability to fool the viewer. It proved his

skills! He tried to get out of time, and advised others to do the same (by not painting contemporary

clothing, f. ex.). Despite this, Art historians refer to him as an Artist. What they gain from

this is obvious: it makes video Art the climax of a long tradition in the face of the fact that

Leonardo represented opposite values.

!e nature of their logic is familiar: 1) Artists follow their time. 2) Leonardo was an Artist. 3)

Leonardo would have made video Art today. So saying, his aura is injected into the contemporary

Artist. Blood transfusion as an academic principle. It is like publishing a history of the combustion

engine from the Greek horse to the modern trailer.

So how is the standing today for those who want to tell stories through painting and sculpture? I

once asked a gallerist what she looked for in a work: originality or quality? Originality was her

immediate response. If a painter had entered her gallery with a Rembrandt portrait made today,

but at the same level of quality she would have rejected it.

Did she understand the consequences of what she said? In such a culture, an Ilya Repin does not

stand a chance.

As the Art values spread with the advancement of the 19th century, the ability to perceive talent

was gradually corroded. A successful composition became a lie; a nude false; a sincere face

unmodern and untrue. Kitsch. A difficult word? To the curator it has the same ring as talent.

Words are not neutral. !ey may help or counteract people`s possibilities of seeing the work they

are standing in front of.

A word does not improve a work, but may secure its survival.

Basically, it`s H. C. Andersen`s story of the swan all over again: it was ugly by duck standards.

Jan-Ove Tuv

Kitsch painter

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