Buenos Aires Fervour, whose title is taken from the first book of poems of another universal Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges, is a translation of Horacio Coppola’s love of the city into photographic language. Through a large group of pictures from Fundación Telefónica – a total of a hundred and twenty-five – the exhibition surveys the most significant production of the man who is hailed as the photographer of Buenos Aires par excellence.
Horacio Coppola’s work reveals an early fondness for geometry and abstraction, as can be seen in his photos from the late 1920s, the first in the exhibition, which are markedly avant-garde and in tune with the New Vision trends. His stint at the Berlin Bauhaus in 1932 and 1933 further brought him into line with the most advanced international art movements.
Coppola’s principal, work Buenos Aires 1936. Visión fotográfica, published in the form of a photobook, stemmed from a council commission: the celebration of the fourth centenary of the city’s founding. For this project he shunned the traditional approach of representing Buenos Aires with pictures that bear witness to the real city, conceiving instead a truly modern and personal set of images. His urban landscapes, a point of reference due to their varied viewpoints, show the city in its entirety and chart a course that leads us indistinctly from centre to outskirts and even beyond the bounds of the city. The main subject of these photographs is unquestionably the metropolis. Coppola captures the original grid layout of Buenos Aires and the vertiginous verticality and crowds of the modern city. His urban maps immerse the viewer in a dynamic and cosmopolitan capital where natural light is combined with the glare of neon lights.
Another major initiative carried out during the 1936 commemorations was the construction of the obelisk and the expansion of Calle Corrientes, which became one of the city’s landmark avenues. Absolutely fascinated by the dizzy and modern pace the obelisk represented, Horacio Coppola, who founded Buenos Aires’s first film club in 1929, also produced a masterpiece of the experimental visual arts, the film Así nació el obelisco [The Birth of the Obelisk]. A modern gaze combined with architecture and the city as subjects marked the career of a few leading names in modern photography and filmmaking: the Paris of Atget, Brassaï, Krull and Kertész; Berlin: The Symphony of a Great City (1927), by Walther Ruttmann; the New York of Stieglitz, Abbot and Strand; and, finally, Horacio Coppola’s Buenos Aires that is shown here.
Grete Stern, Revealer of Dreams
Horacio Coppola’s Buenos Aires was also that of German photographer Grete Stern. An exile in the city from 1935, when she married Coppola, until her death, Stern (1904–1999) took with her to Argentina an unheard-of and innovative type of photography she had learned in Walter Peterhans’s studio and at the Bauhaus in Berlin in the late 1920s, a time when avant-garde photography was taking shape.
Independent and creative, in Buenos Aires Stern continued to work as a photographer and designer, having started out in early 1930s Germany. Following a joint exhibition with Coppola on their arrival in 1935 – a milestone event for the city’s conservative culture scene – and a few shared publishing projects (such as the cover for the photobook Buenos Aires 1936, designed by Stern), Grete pursued a long career in Argentina and her name became associated with the most advanced cultural milieus. After separating from Coppola in 1943, she focused on portraits of friends and political expatriates, photographing urban architecture and ethnographic subjects. She also engaged in photomontage, which gave rise to the series Sueños [Dreams], now the most famous part of her interesting and bold output, of which twenty-five examples are on display here.
Published between 1948 and 1951 in a medium unrelated to art – the women’s magazine Idilio – the more than a hundred images composed by Stern accompanied the weekly interpretations of readers’ dreams in the ‘Psychoanalysis will help you’ section. With these original compositions, the photographer provided a sharp criticism of the situation of women in Perón’s Argentina. By ‘infiltrating’ a general-interest publication, these photomontages brought the avant-garde photography advocated by Stern and Coppola to a mass medium. And at the same time, disguised as oneiric imaginings and visual play, this universe of unsettling and haunting dreams created from surrealistic and striking combinations of photographs taken expressly or reused – hers and Coppola’s – enabled Stern to express herself freely as a committed artist, revealing feminist concerns that were as modern as her photography.