Untitled (Barbara with eyes closed), c.1925-30

Untitled (Gunda, nude), 1922

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Margaret Loke, The New York Times, 22 Febryary 2002:

The Austrian artist Artur Nikodem created personal work radically different from his public art. Publicly, Nikodem, who was born in 1870, produced color-drenched paintings that reflected the influence of Monet and Cézanne. Privately, he took strikingly modernist, spare photographs, possibly beginning during World War I when he became a telegraph officer and for a time was stationed in Turkey.
Nikodem the photographer kept that part of his creativity to himself, and it remained a secret for years after he died in 1940. His great-grandson, Martin Krulis, came across a cache of his photographs, most of them contacts printed from glass-plate negatives, and brought them to Robert Mann.
In the exhibition catalog, Monika Faber, a photography curator in Vienna, noted that Nikodem tested cameras and film for a friend, a photographic supplies dealer. His prints here are small, many 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches, with a few about 3 by 5 inches. Hung in a dim gallery, each image spotlighted, the 34 pictures raise the expectation that they are all of superb quality.
Many are exquisite, especially those of Barbara, a model who became his wife. Clothed or unclothed, she exudes a smoky sensuality all the more potent because Nikodem doesn’t distract with stylized poses or superfluous props. As if taking cues from Stieglitz vis-à-vis the majestic O’Keeffe, Nikodem made love to Barbara with his camera, taking marvelously casual pictures of her feet, her hands, her naked back, as she ate fruit or sat in a chair. But Nikodem’s sea and landscape shots of Turkey and rural Austria are nothing to write home about. The show would be stronger without them. Peering at Nikodem’s small prints, particularly his inspired portraits of people familiar to him, even his austere self-portrait, you might also wish the gallery had larger prints made. They wouldn’t be vintage, but they could be extraordinary.

Untitled (Barbara, feet and teddy), c.1925-30

Untitled (sitting nude), c.1920s

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Untitled (Barbara, hands folded under chin), c.1925

Untitled (Barbara, head resting on left hand), c.1920s

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Art Forum, May 2002:

 

At a time when Chelsea is filled with wall-size, color-saturated photographs pursuing "the painting of modern life," there is something perversely appealing about a show of miniscule black-and-white photographs made by a painter. Known for his Tyrolean landscapes, agrarian scenes, portraits, and nudes, modernist Artur Nikodem was influenced in his native Austria by the Vienna Secession and Art Nouveau; he studied in Munich and Florence and lived briefly in Paris, where he was especially drawn to the work of Manet and Cézanne. From 1914 to 1930, Nikodem tested photographic equipment for a dealer friend, producing only two-and-a-half-inch square or rectangular contact prints and never showing them as art, though some of the hundreds of images he made at this time surely functioned as studies for paintings.

Nikodem’s prints (thirty-four of which were on view here) are so small that the ideal viewing distance is collapsed to a few inches, drawing us into a disarming intimacy that is most effective in his nude portraits of his model (and lover?) Gunda Wiese (who would die, at twenty-four, of tuberculosis) and second wife Barbara Hoyer. In one image Wiese appears poised to rise from an armchair, topless, her dress having fallen in complex folds in her lap. In another, Hoyer’s bare legs and feet rest on a patterned cloth strewn with small white objects (game pieces?) as she reaches languidly to steady an alert-looking teddy bear. Most of Nikodem’s photographs are shot in a single small, dark room, with shafts of daylight isolating the sitters, who often look directly, lovingly, into the lens. There is one self-portrait of the artist in his studio, standing with his arms crossed, one hand highlighted, beside a large painting of two nudes against an abstract ground. There are landscapes here, too, of rugged slopes and birch copses, but they lack the complexity and particularity of the portraits.

While Nikodem draws on a vocabulary of large simple shapes and luxurious color in his paintings, in his photographs he manipulates extreme contrasts and gradations of light and shadow. Yet the compositional sense is recognizably the same, as distinctive as a fingerprint. What’s most remarkable is that Nikodem, more than many other painters who have taken photographs, instinctively recognized that photography is all about composing with light, and that the pleasure is akin to that of composing with color. He even incorporated light streaks and other aberrations into his compositions, using techniques largely ignored by other photographer-painters.

Kirche 1925

Kirche_in_Rattenberg_1925

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STADT IM ABENDLICHT

Sistrans

Nikodem - STADT IM ABENDLICHT

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Bauernhäuser mit Kirche, 1925

Allerheiligenstimmung in Stuben, 1912

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Stilleben in roten Blumen, 1922

Tänzerin, 1928

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Segelboote

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