Willem Venter – The Kitsch Movement as manifestation of Rancièrian dissensus

Willem Venter is currently a Ph.D. student and lecturer in History of Art and member of the Research Niche for Visual narratives and creative outputs through interdisciplinary and practice-led research at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University, South Africa.





The Kitsch Movement as manifestation of Rancièrian dissensus

The contemporary Norwegian figurative painter Odd Nerdrum declared in 1998 at a retrospective exhibition of his work that he is not an artist, but prefers to be known as a Kitsch painter. With this statement, Nerdrum insists that his work should be considered within (what he calls) the standards of Kitsch. In his description of The Kitsch Movement Odd Nerdrum distinguishes between Kitsch and art. Nerdrum’s positioning of his work within a framework that he himself defines as Kitsch speaks of a thoughtful and deliberate theorization of the nature of art creation within contemporary art, specifically with regard to the definition of kitsch as a construct.

Reflection on the nature of aesthetics and, in particular, the place of kitsch therein, seems to have come to the fore in recent years. Theorists like Boylan (2010), Tedman (2010) and Kellman-Chapin (2013), along with Nerdrum, express their perception of the marginalization of certain artistic practices, often regarded as so called kitsch.

The emphasis placed on the imbalance between certain artistic practices, as in the example of kitsch, speaks to a wider consideration of the politics of art. The work of French philosopher Jacques Rancière considers the politics of art through what he calls the distribution of the sensible. This distribution refers to the way in which certain practices within society are set as norms by what Rancière calls the police. Rancière argues that the police are opposed by politics, specifically in the form of art that questions the distribution of the sensible – a process that leads to the redistribution of the sensible. This opposition and consequent redistribution of the sensible Rancière calls dissensus.

My paper argues that Nerdrum’s attempts to reposition kitsch – from an out-group to contemporary art – to Kitsch – as an in-group – can be seen as an example of Rancièrian dissensus. I argue that Nerdrum positions art as the police; setting up certain ideas and boundaries which becomes the norm. These norms, set up by the police, marginalizes those practices which do not conform to the norm, often referred to as kitsch. By creating the Kitsch Movement Nerdrum establishes the politics that redistribute the way the norm is considered, thus brining dissensus about.