Surreal South America: Modernist Photography from the 1930s - Atlas Obscura
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Surreal South America: Modernist Photography from the 1930s

‘Soapsuds’, ringl + pit (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

The photographers Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola met at Germany’s rigorous Bauhaus school in 1932, a year before the avant-garde architecture and design institution was pressured into closing by the Nazis. After the influential movement was dissolved, the young couple moved to London, and then on to Coppola’s homeland of Argentina.

This was the beginning of a fruitful artistic partnership that lasted until they divorced in 1943—and the photos are gloriously weird. 

The newlyweds weren’t in Buenos Aires very long before they decided to put on Argentina’s first modernist photography exhibition. Coppola shot moody, sometimes surreal, images of streetscapes in the Argentine capital, while Stern created stylishly witty photo collages, and shot striking portraits of writers like Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges.

The first major exhibition of the works of Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It includes more than 300 of their works, starting with their individual artistic careers in the 1920s and continuing through to the 1950s. Below, a selection of the pair’s glamorous modernist photographs. 

Buenos Aires 1936, Horacio Coppola (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

‘Photomontage for Madí, Ramos Mejía, Argentina’, 1946–47, Grete Stern (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/ Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

‘4800 Avenida Díaz Vélez’ 1936, Horacio Coppola (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/ Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

‘Columbus’s Egg’ 1930, ringl + pit  (Photo:  © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/ Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York) 

‘Calle Florida’ 1936, Horacio Coppola (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York) 

‘Self-Portrait’ 1943, Grete Stern (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York)  

 Jorge Luis Borges 1951, Grete Stern (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York)  

Komol’ 1931 ringly + pit (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Buenos Aires 1931, Horacio Coppola (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

‘Dream No. 28: Love Without Illusion’ 1951, Grete Stern (Photo:  © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Plaza San Martín from Kavanagh’ 1936, Horacio Coppola (Photo: © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola/The Museum of Modern Art, New York)