From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola at the Museum of Modern Art
MoMA — The Bauhaus School of Art lasted for only 14 years from 1919 to 1933, but its impacts on modern art and design continues to be felt strongly today. Two of the photography students of this famous German institution who found fame on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean were Grete Stern, a German, and Horacio Coppola, an Argentinean. The two met at the school, fell in love, fled Nazi Germany, got married and together became a powerhouse of modern photography.
The exhibition titled “From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola,” being held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is touted as the first major exhibition that explores the works of the husband and wife artist team from the late 1920’s to the early 1950’s. On display are more than 300 works by both photographers, including vintage photos, photomontages, typographical designs, advertising films and experimental films.
Grete Stern (May 9, 1904 – December 24, 1999) was born in Elberfeld, Germany. She studied graphic art at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Stuttgart from 1923 to 1925. But she soon changed her focus to photography after realizing that her heart was in it. In 1927, she moved to Berlin and took private lessons from Walter Peterhans, who became the head of photography at the Bauhaus shortly afterwards.
While continuing to study intermittently at the Bauhaus, she opened a photography and design studio, which received critical acclaim. But with the rise of the Nazi Germany, she fled to England in 1933 and set up a studio in London, where she photographed several famous German exiles. In 1935, she married Horacio Coppola, who she had met at the Bauhaus, and a year later moved with him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she continued her work.
Horacio Coppola (31 July 1906 – 18 June 2012) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The son of a well- off Italian immigrant couple, he studied music, art, law and languages. He began taking pictures at the age of 20 and travelled to Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1929, he founded the Buenos Aires Film Club to introduce the best of innovative foreign films to the Argentine audience.
While on a visit to Germany in 1932, Coppola joined the Bauhaus where he met Grete Stern. He followed her to London, where he took portraits of famous artists and worked on a book about Mesopotamian artifacts at the British Museum and the Louvre. On his return to Argentina, he received a commission to photograph Buenos Aires for the city’s 400th anniversary. His portrayal of the romance, vitality and squalor of the great city won him critical acclaim. He was later named “Illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aires”.
From 1936 until 1943, when the couple divorced, Coppola and Stern ran a studio in Buenos Aires. While Coppola focused on the cityscape, Stern took portraits of city’s intelligentsia, including feminist Amparo Alvajar, essaying Jorge Luis Borges and poet-politician Pablo Neruda. Between the two, they held several well-received exhibitions in Argentina and abroad. After they divorced, they continued to work separately.
The exhibition follows the creative journeys of these two pioneers of modern photography in Argentina from the 1920’s to the early 1950’s. Starting with Coppola’s brilliant still of the Buenos Aires cityscape, it moves to advertising works and portraits made by Stern in Germany. Some of the best works on display include “Photomontage for Madi, Ramos Meija, Argentina” and “Dreams” by Stern.
The exhibition “From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola” is an insightful journey into the life and time of two of the pioneers of avant garde photography in Argentina when photography as an art was still in its infancy.