Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Odd Nerdrum Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

I am saddened to be the bearer of such shocking news.

My mentor and dear friend, Odd Nerdrum, has been sentenced to two years in prison by a Norwegian court. He is a man who has dedicated his life's work to defending human dignity, a man who has given his profound knowledge freely to thousands of students without charging a single penny, a man who has inspired millions with his masterly and empathetic paintings - a man who generously opened his home and family to my wife and me when we lost our jobs in New York City, in the midst of the financial crisis, and were quite literally homeless...
This man has been sentenced to two years in jail for tax evasion for $1.5 million USD. Oscar Wilde never recovered from his two year imprisonment for homosexuality and died just a few years after his release, at the young age of 46. At Odd's age (67), and considering that he has tourette's syndrome, this sentence could kill him.

Let's be clear here: the charges against him are not that he didn't pay his taxes. He has already settled that with the Norwegian tax authorities, and this was acknowledged by the court. No, the charges are that he intentionally hid money in order to evade taxes. Of this he is not guilty.

Call me biased, but Bernie Madoff, he is not.

For a little context, consider that Ai WeiWei was accused of tax evasion in China, a communist country, and released on bail after two months of house arrest and a fine.
"Xinhua reported that Mr Ai had offered to repay the taxes and would be released because of "his good attitude in confessing his crimes". " - from article in BBC above

Conversely, Odd has already paid his exorbitant back taxes, he is not allowed bail and must serve his sentence in full, without being allowed to paint, as well as pay a fine. If the sentence itself doesn't sound appallingly harsh for the circumstances, there's also the fact that they have no solid evidence, and have convicted him based only on some bureaucrat's "suspicion". Wait, doesn't that sound familiar? Why, yes, that's exactly what China did with Ai Weiwei. Yet, why is Norway imposing a more severe punishment than China, a country known for it's human rights violations? But of course, the Norwegian press doesn't present it that way. Why would they? Just as China controls it's press, the Norwegian press is funded by the Norwegian government.

Artist Pleads Not Guilty to tax evasion.

Odd Nerdrum Sentenced to Two Years in Jail

Here's what they don't tell you in the Norwegian press. First, they claim that a $900,000 fund in a safe deposit box, was placed there to evade taxes. Odd set aside the money for claims on large compositions that he made in the 1980's with an experimental medium of mastic and linseed oil. After several years, collectors complained that they began to melt if they got too warm. Though he generously painted 36 new paintings of the same images between 1989 - 2002 in order to replace the damaged paintings, many of the collectors wanted to be compensated with money instead of new paintings. This problem is quite well known and extensively documented, and the fund in question was stipulated in the contract with Forum Gallery. And considering the price of his work, this fund for potential claims is quite small.

Odd's explanation is backed up by documents. The courts case is built upon conjecture.

Secondly, Odd's bank keeps records up to ten years back. So, despite the fact that Odd provided all the necessary papers to prove his innocence for the years 2001-02, (just before he renounced his Norwegian citizenship and became an Icelandic citizen) he could not get any records for 1998-2000. They had no evidence to prove that he evaded taxes: no documents, no witnesses, no fingerprints, merely suspicion. Do you keep your tax records from over ten years ago? In the U.S we have what's called a statute of limitations, but apparently Norway doesn't. We also believe that it's the responsibility of the court to prove a man's guilt, not his responsibility to prove his innocence. Again, apparently this doesn't apply to Norwegian courts.

Is this worth a court case and two years in jail? Even if he were "guilty", why is this a criminal case to begin with, why not just a civil case?

It shocks me that this kind of persecution can be so blatantly pursued in our day, against such an international treasure. As this so profoundly effects our intellectual and creative community, I thought I must tell you. So, what is it that they want? Do they want Odd to demonstrate "his good attitude in confessing his crimes"? Do they want to make a political scapegoat out of him? I'll let you decide for yourself, but if you ask me, something is rotten in the state of Norway.

The vilest deeds like poison-weeds
Bloom well in prison-air:
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
And the Warder is Despair.
- Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

P.S. What can you do? Sign the Petition and contact your local papers and news channels. Spread the word!