Magazine article Artforum International

Grete Stern: Galerie 213. (Paris)

Magazine article Artforum International

Grete Stern: Galerie 213. (Paris)

Article excerpt

Even without knowing the facts of Grete Stern's long life--she was born in Wuppertal-Eberfeld in 1904 and died in Buenos Aires in 1999--one could discern her itinerary from the photos on view: the composition studies and portraits in the unmistakable Bauhaus style that marked her beginnings in Dessau and Berlin (1927-33); a lone advertising design evoking her three years in London, where she went with fellow student and future husband Horacio Coppola following Hitler's election; and a more extensive group of portraits, nudes, cityscapes, landscapes, and other works from Argentina, where she disembarked with Coppola in 1936 and spent the last forty years of her life. While the pattern is typical of the '30s Weimar diaspora from Nazi Germany, Stern's long years in Argentina set her apart. And indeed, the remarkable group of works that made up the centerpiece of this show, forty-six photomontages known as the "Suenos" (Dreams, 1948-51), demonstrated the singularity of this encounter between the culture of the Ba uhaus and the country of Borges. These small black-and-white images convey a world in which, to paraphrase Goya, the dreams of women produce monsters. The dreamers themselves, portrayed as the model housewives of Argentina's middle class or their younger sisters, thus find themselves in nightmarish situations--confinement, loss of control, physical danger, domination, lack of identity--evoked through the magic realism of the photomontage, with its composite figures and backgrounds, its manipulations of scale, perspective, and lighting. In Botella del mar (Bottle from the sea), Sueno no. 5, 1949, for example, the dreamer, incongruously dressed like a preppy college student, is trapped in an outsized glass bottle deposited on the beach; in Articulos electricos para el hogar (Electrical appliances for the home), Sueno no. …

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