A vibrant city in motion: Horacio Coppola’s Buenos Aires

Argentine Modernism is under the spotlight in a new retrospective at New York’s MoMa focusing on the works of Horacio Coppola and Grete Stern. Coppola, an Argentine of Italian descent, and Stern, a German Jew, met at the Bauhaus, the experimental German art school, in the 1930s.

With the rise of the Nazi regime and the subsequent closure of the Bauhaus, they moved to Buenos Aires in 1936, via London, where they got married. With the knowledge and training they had received in Germany, they soon established themselves as pioneers of Modernism in Argentina, combining a sharp eye for abstraction and design with local themes and subject matters.

One obvious approach to examining their work has been to consider the axis of influence between Germany and Argentina. However, another interesting and novel comparison is between Buenos Aires and Paris, as the Argentine capital has often been considered ‘the Paris of South America’. In a post-colonial context, such a claim is deceptive. It implies that Buenos Aires is simply an imitation of the Parisian capital, with its leafy boulevards and café culture, and that it lacks its own character.

This claim can be challenged through an in-depth analysis of Horacio Coppola’s street photography, which is celebrated as the first modern portrait of the Argentine capital. By comparing it to Eugène Atget’s photographic portrayal of Paris, we can reveal and start to appreciate the particularities of Coppola’s art, as well as the specific character of the porteño experience itself.

Eugène Atget’s project had no artistic pretensions of its own. His shots of Paris were intended as archival and support material for artists. Whilst other photographers of the late 19th Century also photographed Paris, Atget was the first to capture the French capital by portraying its insignificant streets, the less important details of the city’s architecture and its invisible inhabitants such as rag-pickers.

It was not until after the photographer’s death that the Surrealists discovered and appropriated his work precisely because his approach created uncanny and nostalgic illustrations of an everyday existence that had long since disappeared. Carry on reading about the photographer, and see more images of his work, in the latest issue of The Kurios.

Words by Emilie Janvrin

Photo: Horacio Coppola. Calle Florida. 1936. Gelatin silver print, 5 11/16 x 7 5/16?(14.5 x 18.5 cm). Collection Léticia and Stanislas Poniatowski © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola