'Exposure: The Female Nude in Photography' on exhibit at Art Museum of Sonoma County
By DAN TAYLOR | Aug 31, 2016

Like many art collectors, Tom Neidecker of Santa Rosa specializes in one particular topic. For his collection, the head of a successful high-tech company has chosen photographs of female nudes.

“I know what I like,” Neidecker said. “It’s something I have always appreciated. It’s an homage to women.”

About 90 images from Neidecker’s collection of 1,200 comprise the Art Museum of Sonoma County’s current exhibit, “Exposure: The Female Nude in Photography,” which runs through Sept. 25. Rather than an anatomy lesson, it represents a short course in art history.

“You can follow the history of photography through the nude, because the nude as a subject began as soon as photography did,” said the show’s curator, John Sappington, who teaches art at Santa Rosa High School and Santa Rosa Junior College. “The same goes for technology today. At the cutting edge of any technology, you’ll often see the nude as a subject.”

Many of the images in the show were taken by women photographers, including such photographic superstars as Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater and Bunny Yeager, known for her pictures of famed ’50s pin-up model Bettie Page. Other notable models in the show include Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga.

In an era when even Playboy magazine has stopped publishing nude centerfolds, there might be a tendency to suspect an exhibit like this of exploitation, but it only takes a walk-through, and a look at the work by such noted photographers as Man Ray and Robert Mapplethorpe, to see that the mission of the exhibit is quite serious.

“I am a photographer and educator, so from my perspective, the test is always going be the level of intent: what’s your intention in the work,” Sappington said. “In this exhibit, there is a level of respect for the subject and a level of intellect behind the image.”

Neidecker, born in Switzerland, started a U.S. branch of his family’s company in Santa Rosa in 1982. Multi-Contact, which produces high-end electronic components, was founded in Switzerland in 1960 by his father, Rudolph Neidecker.

Neidecker currently houses his collection, which also includes 30,000 books and manuscripts, in two side-by-side residences and two smaller structures between them. After the current exhibit, he plans to move his entire collection under one roof in Arizona, where the dryer climate will help preserve his treasures.

“I have collected art my whole life,” said Neidecker, now 61. “I think I started at 17 or 16. At that time, I was really interested in portraits on canvas. Then I collected old prints and manuscripts and maps. Then I started on surrealist art and the maestro, Salvador Dali.”

Ultimately, Neidecker found himself drawn to photographers who used a straight-forward art form to create complex images, including Man Ray, who was influenced by Pablo Picasso. Eventually, Neidecker’s fascination with photography led him to commission a few works by photographers.

”Photographs are democratic,” Neidecker said. “They speak to everyone instantly. People want to talk about photographs, but I say, ‘Show me.’ This show has to be seen. The more you know about art, the more you learn.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

"Exposure: The Female Nude in Photography" is showing at the Art Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa.