The internationally acclaimed, 68 year old Norwegian Artist, Odd Nerdrum, was sentenced on June 27, 2012 to two years ten months in prison by the Norwegian appeals court for tax evasion. According to the sentence, he would not be allowed to paint in prison, as it would be considered a commercial activity. The increased sentence follows a year long controversy surrounding faulty evidence in the district court verdict of August 2011 in which Nerdrum was sentenced to two years.
The charge held against him was “gross tax fraud” for a sum of around $2.6 million. It was acknowledged by the court that the artist had paid the taxes in full. Nerdrum claims that he, in fact, paid twice – and the Norwegian tax authorities actually owe him money.
Nerdrum’s statement refers to the nature of the controversey that threatened to destroy his career, which began in 1989. Nerdrum learned that some 40 paintings, valued at several hundred thousand dollars a piece, had begun to dissintegrate due to an experimental technique. Nerdrum repainted these paintings between 1989 – 2002 offering them as replacements to the collectors.
The Norwegian tax authorities taxed Nerdrum for both the sale of the originals, which he wrote off as a loss, as well as the replacements given to his clients. This is where the dispute arose: the court’s decision hinged on a NY bank account, which Nerdrum claims he did not possess, and an Austrian bank box which had held some $900,000. The artist claims this sum as a loan from his New York gallery as a safety fund for clients who wanted a refund instead of replacement paintings. The artist presented a notarized contract between Nerdrum and his gallery, mentioning this sum, as well as its purpose, which the court judged irrelevant.
Many of his supporters around the world raise questions about the proceedings of the court. They dispute that the verdict is based upon conjecture rather than evidence, and claim that the increase from an already harsh sentence, is nothing more than persecution and a desire to punish Nerdrum for appealing the fist verdict.
The one thing that most seem to agree upon is that the sentence seems incredibly harsh, compared to the crime, and specifically not allowing an artist to create in prison could amount to cruel and unusual punishment