At 101, Artist Carmen Herrera Comes to National Attention with “Lines of Sight”
Artwork: Carmen Herrera, Green and Orange, 1958. Acrylic on canvas, 60 × 72 in. (152.4 × 182.9 cm). Collection of Paul and Trudy Cejas © Carmen Herrera
At the tender age of 101, Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera is receiving her due with Lines of Sight, the first museum exhibition in New York City in nearly two decades. Currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art, now through January 9, 2017, the exhibition focuses on the years between 1948 and 1978, when Herrera developed her groundbreaking style that revolutionized modern and contemporary art.
The exhibition features 50 masterworks including paintings, three-dimensional pieces, and works on paper that embody her signature hard-edged style, which she pioneered throughout the twentieth century. Following the Whitney, the show will travel to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Oho (February 4-April 16 2017).
“Herrera has been painting for more than seven decades, though it is only over the past decade or so that acclaim for her work has catapulted the artist to international prominence. This overdue evaluation offers the first comprehensive look at her career, the result of time spent in the art works of Havana, Paris, and New York,” reveals Dana Miller, the former Richard DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art, who has organized Lines of Sight.
Herrera was born in Havana in 1915 to a newspaper family: her father, the founding editor of El Mundo newspaper and her mother, a reporter. Herrera traveled between Cuba, France, and the United States frequently, until she met an American man, married him, and moved to New York City, where she studied at the famed Arts Students League.
By the late 1940s, Abstract Expressionism exploded the scene just as New York was becoming the capital of the art world after the fall of Paris in World War II. But rather than embrace the world dwelling right outside her door, Herrera moved to post-war Paris, where she lived from 1948 to 1953. It was here, outside the burgeoning American art scene, that Herrera developed her distinct voice, distilling a classic geometric style, working in just three colors—and then reducing it further to two.
Her cool, purist aesthetic prefigured the development of Minimalism by nearly a decade—but the New York scene wasn’t ready for a Latina to bring the power and beauty of her talents to the art world. As a woman and an immigrant, she faced significant discrimination from the establishment. But greatness cannot be oppressed or contained and so Herrera has endured, refusing to be held down by the politics that did not want to see her shine—ultimately outliving them all.
Herrera returned to New York in the 1950s, where she created her most important series, Blanco y Verde (1959–1971). These deceptively simple paintings speaks to the brilliance of her mind and her innate inability to create profound, spiritual work through color, shape, and line. The works from Blanco y Verde are shown within their own gallery, allowing them to create a complete, cohesive experience that illustrates Herrera’s masterful approach.
Lines of Sight concludes with her experimental works made between 1962 and 1978. Here we see her “estrucuras,” a series of wooden sculptures that involve the properties of her two-dimensional work but find themselves moving through space in an entirely new way liberated from the confines of the wall. They are a study in the tension between flatness and depth, of the pure pleasure invoked by the magical possibilities of the freestanding work.
In this way they become a metaphor for the artist herself, who is now wheelchair-bound but unstoppable. “I do it because I have to do it; it’s a compulsion that also gives me pleasure,” Herrera told The New York Times. “I never in my life had any idea of money and I thought fame was a very vulgar thing. So I just worked and waited. And at the end of my life, I’m getting a lot of recognition, to my amazement and my pleasure, actually.”
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.