1915 – 2022
Carmen Herrera was a Cuban American Minimalist hard-edge painter who worked in almost virtual obscurity for decades despite her early, groundbreaking exploration of abstraction. The inclusion of her 1959 diptych “Blanco y Verde” in the Whitney Museum has publicly granted Carmen Herrera a status in the canon of modern art, that should have been hers years ago.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Herrera was educated in Havana and Paris where she studied art, art history, and architecture. In 1939, she married an American, Jesse Loewenthal, and moved to New York City where she studied at the Art Students League.
Herrera and Loewenthal lived in Paris from 1948 to 1953. She became associated with an international group of artists, the Salon des Realites Nouvelles, and exhibited with them. It was in Paris that she developed her geometric, hard-edged style of abstraction.
Returning to New York in 1954 at the height of male-dominated Abstract Expressionism, she was thrust into obscurity because of her hard-edge style, which used a palette of only two or three colors. This technique was just the opposite of what the Ab-Ex artists were doing. Her own style was that of a pared-down, hard-edge abstractionism, which anticipated Minimalism. As both a woman and a Cuban immigrant, she faced discrimination in the art world. Yet she continued to work for the next six decades, but her paintings remained mostly unseen and therefore unsold.
Herrera continued to work almost every day. Her work demonstrated a disciplined but highly sophisticated exploration of color and form. She once said, “I believe that I will always be in awe of the straight line, it’s beauty is what keeps me painting.”
In 1985, she participated in a show at The Alternative Museum in New York. Since the late 1990s, Herrera received increasing attention for her work. She was granted a small show of her black and white paintings at New York’s El Museo del Barrio in 1998. In 2005, her work was part of an exhibition at Miami Art Central. She sold her first painting in 2004 at the age of 89.
Her first museum retrospective “Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight” took place at the Whitney Museum in the fall of 2016 when she was 101 years old. This exhibition included 50 works of drawings, paintings, and sculpture from 1948-1978. Her early works from her formative period (1948-1958) showed her experimenting with different types of abstraction as she explored geometry, space, and the line. The second part of this exhibition “Blanco y Verde” (1959-1971) showed paintings that integrated the surrounding environment. The last section included sculptural works and vivid paintings from her “Days of the Week” series (1975-1978), which reflected her interest in the built environment. These works highlighted the architectural underpinnings of many of her compositions.
In lower Manhattan’s City Hall Park there is an installation of her work. This consists of five large painted aluminum sculptures: “Carmen Herrera: Estructuras Monumentales.” These sculptures take the geometric shapes she has painted on canvas and changed them into three dimensional sculptures.
Her work are in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others.