Carmen Herrera, 101-Year-Old Artist Finally Gets Her Place in the Sun
Good things come to those who wait and for geometric abstract artist Carmen Herrera, who has been working dutifully for over seven decades, her moment has finally arrived. At 101-years-old, the Cuban-born, New York-based artist has been experiencing incredible exposure over the last dozen years, recently culminating in two high-profile shows for 2016. In May, Lisson Gallery inaugurated their new Chelsea space with a successful sold-out show and the current retrospective ‘Lines of Sight' just opened on Sept 16th at the Whitney Museum. Herrera’s paintings have even entered fashion, as the Swiss luxury brand Akris, largely inspired by her intelligently simplified canvases, collaborated with the artist for their Spring/Summer 2017 collection during NYFW. Herrera is also celebrated in the Netflix documentary, 'The 100 Years Show’ currently streaming now.
The reason for Herrera's decades-long critical neglect can be attributed to many factors - being a female, a foreigner, and her minimalist style too ahead of its time - yet she soldiered on undeterred and reveled in her anonymity. Peers like Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, and Leon Polk Smith, who as American white males faced no barriers in the '50s and '60s, overshadowed her career, yet were in some way inspired by her work. Herrera has relished working in obscurity as it provided total freedom, and time to refine and perfect her artistry. Born in Havana in 1915 to an affluent family, Herrera gravitated to art and studied architecture at the University of Havana, which laid the foundation for her precision and signature geometric style. In 1939, Herrera married Jesse Lowenthal, a German-Jewish English professor from the Bronx, abandoning her degree to relocate to New York. She continued her education at the Art Students League of New York from 1943-1947. In the late 1940s as Abstract Expressionism became all the rage in New York, she and her husband decamped to post-war Paris to settle there.
It’s during this era of exploration while living in the City of Light that ‘Lines of Sight’ begins. The exhibit focuses on three decades of her life, 1948-1978, which is also quite limited given that she is over a 100 years old. Curated by Dana Miller (in her last curatorial project with the museum), about fifty works are on view comprised of acrylic-based canvases (including numerous diptychs and triptychs) drawings, and sculpture. Upon entering the eighth floor gallery viewers are instantly greeted by a row of her show-stopping ‘Days of the Week’ series. The series features two-toned paintings from the mid to late ‘70s containing a bold black thunderbolt-like shape, which adds an explosive and frenzied energy to the works. In 'Shocking Pink’, from 1949 and ‘Untitled’, from 1948, the vibrancy and passion Herrera felt in Paris during these early years comes alive. Painting rich, exuberant patterns, almost textile-like, one can see parallels to Sonia Delaunay and the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, the artist collective and famed annual art exhibit Herrera showed and was associated with during her time in Paris.
In 1954 Herrera returned to New York and has remained in the same Union Square studio apartment ever since. Fellow artist and neighbor Tony Bechara proved fortuitous in her career, when in 2004 he recommended her to Latin American art dealer Frederico Seve, who needed to fill a spot in a female geometric abstract group show. From that moment on, she was anointed as the art discovery of the 2000s and has continued reaping her long overdue acclaim. Her canvases currently command between $30K to $40K, and reside in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, PAMM, Walker Art Center, MoMA, and the Hirshhorn Smithsonian. For a patient and persevering centenarian, Herrera finally got her place in the sun. 'Lines of Sight' will be on view through January 2, 2017 at the Whitney Museum.
This article originally appeared on Duggal Connect.