Carmen Herrera - The artist in her New York studio, in Lisson museum - Image via netdnacom - whitney museum has news to save time for painting search

Carmen Herrera/ Carmen Herrera

Cuba 1915

Minimal Art

Carmen Herrera
Carmen Herrera
Female
Cuba
1915

My quest is for the simplest of pictorial resolutions. This was an answer from a Cuban painter Carmen Herrera when she was asked to explain what drives her art from within. This master of terse lines and contrasting chromatic planes finds the core of her painting within the formal simplicity and a striking sense of color. Herrera’s life and career were a long journey filled with adventure and creative development. She exhibited alongside Theo van Doesburg, Max Bill and Piet Mondrian, as well as a younger generation of Latin American authors, such as members of the Venezuelan Los Disidentes, Brazilian Concretists and the Argentinian Grupo Madi[1]. This one hundred and one years old artist’s work can also be connected with the painters from the US school such as Barnett Newman, Leon Polk Smith and Ellsworth Kelly, at least on a conceptual level.

The Times news section covered the Lisson gallery exhibition, as well as the whitney museum show
Carmen Herrera – Costa del Sol, 2015 – Image via wikiart.org

Choosing Paris over New York City

Carmen Herrera was born during the year of 1915, in Havana, Cuba’s capital city. She was one of seven children of her family. Her father was a successful journalist and one of the founding editors of the newspaper El Mundo, a magazine fo which Carmen’s mother worked as well. After entering her teens, young Herrera moved frequently throughout the 1930s and 1940s, visiting many world centers, traveling and living in France, Cuba and the United States of America. During that time, she studied architecture in Havana and dreamed of projecting impressive building when she enters adulthood. In 1939, she met an English professor named Jesse Loewenthal when he was visiting from Cuba. The two fell in love and married rather quickly, after which Carmen Herrera moved to New York, abandoning her degree course and dreams of becoming an architect. Instead, the young painter studied at the Art Students League in New York City. During the late 1940s, abstract expressionism was blooming and literally transformed the Big Apple into an art metropolis. However, despite the fact Herrera was an aspiring painter and all the opportunities that the current location could offer her, she decided to move to the post-war torn France. She settled in Paris and became a part of the creative rebuilding era, during which she was able to find her own expressive style. Carmen got to know the young painters from the famed Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, an art collective that was striving to challenge the traditions of the art scene and impose their own avant-garde concepts to the scene. After one of Salon des Réalités Nouvelles‘ exhibitions, Herrera concluded that her compositions simply have too many elements within them and that she must search for more simplicity. This will eventually prove to be a pivotal moment of her long career that will define all of her future pieces.

In 2016, The Times offered a painting and the artist's contact in their news column
Carmen Herrera – Untitled, 1966 – Image via walkerart.org

The Re-Discovery of Carmen Herrera

Since that key moment in Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Herrera’s art was all about shapes and color from then on. Furthermore, Carmen desired to investigate how such simple elements can relate and correspond with one another. In 1954, the minimalistic painter saw enough of France and wanted to return to her husband. Herrera settled in her home in New York the same year and was a part of the scene constantly. However, she was only an observer and a familiar face, never presenting her own works to the wider public for some reason. As the decades were passing by, literally everyone who knew her talent died and Carmen’s art was forgotten in accordance with her wishes. She painted alone in her studio and did not desire fame for most of her mature life, only wanting to develop her purification process further. Luckily for the public, this all changed in the year of 2004 when her friend attended a dinner with Frederico Sève, the owner of the Latin Collector Gallery in Manhattan[2]. After hearing about Herrera’s life and work, Sève immediately decided to include the Cuban painter’s pieces in his gallery. The 2004 re-discovery of Carmen Herrera was an instant shock wave for the worldwide scene as her brilliance was finally brought to light after all the decades and the public realized just how much she must have influenced the Minimalistic movement. Since her work remained unknown for som many years, Herrera’s career managed to add many noteworthy chapters to the development of contemporary art. Fortunately, Carmen’s art is now finally and rightfully considered to be an important milestone in the evolution of the Geometric Minimalism movement. Whitney Museum of American Art in New York was especially interested in her paintings, holding at least one exhibition of Herrera’s work annually to date. Soon, her paintings were a part of many galleries around the world and every painting she authored found a home either in Paris, London or in the aforementioned Whitney Museum. Her fascinating life story became an instant magnet for her exhibitions, while the unique circumstances of Herrera’s paintings were crowned with a 2014 documentary film by a famous director Alison Klayman, titled appropriately as The 100 Years Show.

Over the course of her extremely long career, Carmen Herrera went through a drawn out process of compositional purification and elemental simplification

The Lisson gallery in London holds an exhibition of the Lisson special artist for years
Carmen Herrera – Untitled – Image via robbreport.com

An Unbelievable Story

Observing this one hundred and one years old artist’s work is simply astonishing, especially when you consider that her pieces have been in hiding for at least five decades prior to 2004. Carmen Herrera is able to simultaneously create harmony, asymmetry and an endless diversity of movements, rhythms and spatial tensions across her canvases by using nothing more than the most inconspicuous application of paint. This artist ultimately managed to do what she desired for the majority of her life – to achieve the perfect purification and remove everything nonessential from her visual vocabulary[3]. And as a reward for such an impressive achievement, Carmen Herrera’s name will go down in art history and her quiet but steady work will forever by a perfect example of a cross-cultural dialogue within the international history of modernist abstraction.

Carmen Herrera lives and works in New York, United States.

References:

  1. Steve, S., Latin American an Caribbean Artists of the Modern Era, McFarland and Company Inc, 2003
  2. Miller, D., Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2016
  3. Julia, C., Julia, J., Carmen Herrera, Ikon Gallery Ltd, 2009

Featured image: Carmen Herrera – The artist in her New York studio – Image via netdna.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2017Carmen Herrera: Lines Of SightWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NYSolo
2016Carmen HerreraLisson Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2016Our America: The Latino Presence in American ArtAllentown Art Museum, Allentown, PAGroup
2016Our America: The Latino Presence in American ArtDelaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DEGroup
2016The Illusive Eye El Museo del Barrio, New York City, NYGroup
2015Our America: The Latino Presence In American ArtArkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, ARGroup
2015America Is Hard to SeeWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NYGroup
2014Our America: The Latino Presence in American ArtCrocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CAGroup
2014Liberated Subjects : PioneersFoundation de 11 Lijnen, OudenburgGroup
2013Carmen Herrera Works on Paper 2010 – 2012Lisson Gallery, Milan, ItalySolo
2013Our America: The Latino Presence in American ArtThe Smithsonian Museum, Washington, USAGroup
2013Order, Chaos and the Space BetweenThe Phoenix Art Museum, ArizonaGroup
20132012 The Geometric Unconscious: A Century of AbstractionSheldon Museum of Art, Nebraska, USAGroup
20132010 Peter Joseph and Carmen HerreraLisson Gallery, London, UKGroup
2013Then & Now: Abstraction in Latin American Art from 1950 to PresentDeutsche Bank, New York, USAGroup
2013NegotiationsToday Art Museum, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2013Grass Grows by ItselfMarlborough Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2012Carmen HerreraLisson Gallery, London, UKSolo
2010Carmen Herrera: Recent worksFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USASolo
2010Carmen HerreraMuseum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern, GermanySolo
2009Carmen HerreraIKON Gallery, Birmingham, UKSolo
2009The Line is a SignFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2009The Line is a SignFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2007Carmen Herrera: EstructurasFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USASolo
2007Referencing Alexander Calder: A Dialogue in Modern and Contemporary ArtEli Klein Fine Art, New York, USAGroup
2007New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930 – 2006: Selections from a Decade of AcquisitionsMuseum of Modern Art, New York, USAGroup
2007Referencing Alexander Calder: A Dialogue in Modern and Contemporary ArtEli Klein Fine Art, New York, USAGroup
2007New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930 – 2006: Selections from a Decade of AcquisitionsMuseum of Modern Art, New York, USAGroup
2006Abstraction: Presence of Cuban Painters in NYFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2006 Abstraction: Presence of Cuban Painters in NYFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2005Carmen Herrera: Five Decades of PaintingFrederico Sève Gallery, New York,Solo
2005The Forms of Silence: Carmen Herrera Abstract Works 1948 – 1976Miami Art Central, Florida, USASolo
2004Concrete Realities: Carmen Herrera, Fanny Sanín, Mira SchendelFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2004Concrete Realities: Carmen Herrera, Fanny Sanín, Mira SchendelFrederico Sève Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1998Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings, 1951 – 1959El Museo del Barrio, New York, USASolo
1997Color: Contrasts and CultureDiscovery Museum, Connecticut, USAGroup
1997Color: Contrasts and CultureDiscovery Museum, Connecticut, USAGroup
1996Cuban American ArtistsKingsborough Community College Art Gallery, City University of New York, USAGroup
1996Cuban American ArtistsKingsborough Community College Art Gallery, City University of New York, USAGroup
1995Art-Exhibit and Silent Auction of Works by Contemporary Artists to Benefit FAITH ServicesJadite Galleries, New York, USAGroup
1995Art-Exhibit and Silent Auction of Works by Contemporary Artists to Benefit FAITH ServicesJadite Galleries, New York, USAGroup
1994Cuban Artists: Expressions in GraphicsJadite Galleries, New York, USAGroup
1994Cuban PresenceVista Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1994Paper Visions V: A Biennial Exhibition of Works on Paper by Thirty Contemporary Latin American ArtistsThe Housatonic Museum of Art, Connecticut, USAGroup
1992Duo-Geo. Two Geometric Artists. Carmen Herrera / Ernesto BrielJadite Gallery, New York, USASolo
1990El Espíritu Latinoamericano: arte y artistas en los Estados Unidos, 1920 – 1970Vero Beach Center for the Arts, Florida, USAGroup
1989El Espíritu Latinoamericano: arte y artistas en los Estados Unidos, 1920 – 1970El Paso Museum of Art, California, USAGroup
1989El Espíritu Latinoamericano: arte y artistas en los Estados Unidos, 1920 – 1970Atlanta College of Art and New Visions Gallery of Contemporary Art, Georgia, USAGroup
1989El Espíritu Latinoamericano: arte y artistas en los Estados Unidos, 1920 – 1970San Diego Museum of Arts, California, USAGroup
1989El Espíritu Latinoamericano: arte y artistas en los Estados Unidos, 1920 – 1970Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, San Juan, Puerto RicoGroup
1989Outside Cuba / Fuera de CubaAtlanta College of Art and New Visions Gallery of Contemporary Art, Georgia, USAGroup
1988Carmen HerreraRastovski Gallery, New York, USASolo
1988El Espíritu Latinoamericano: arte y artistas en los Estados Unidos, 1920 – 1970The Bronx Museum of Arts, New York, USAGroup
1988Outside Cuba / Fuera de Cuba, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto RicoMiami Center for the Fine Arts, Florida, USAGroup
1987Carmen HerreraRastovski Gallery, New York, USASolo
1987Outside Cuba / Fuera de CubaZimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University of New Jersey, New York, USAGroup
1987Outside Cuba / Fuera de CubaMuseum of Contemporary Hispanic Arts, New York, USAGroup
1987Outside Cuba / Fuera de CubaMiami University Art Museum, Ohio, USAGroup
1986Two Minimalists Four Decades Apart: Carmen Herrera – Elizabeth PoveronoRastovski Gallery, New York, USASolo
1984Carmen Herrera: A Retrospective 1951 – 1984The Alternative Museum, New York, USASolo
1981The Big Picture – Major PaintingsBuecker and Harpsichords, New York, USAGroup
1980Carmen HerreraInstitute of International Education, New York, USASolo
1975Cuban Painters Working in New YorkCenter for Inter-American Relations, New York, USAGroup
1974Purism in New York CityBuecker and Harpsichords, New York, USAGroup
1973Women Choose Women. Women Inter-ArtNew York Cultural Center, USAGroup
1972C.W. PostLong Island University, New York, USAGroup
1972Contemporary Art ExhibitionLoeb Student Center, New York University, USAGroup
1969 Graphics 1969Syracuse, New York, USAGroup
1968Five Latin American Artists at Work in New YorkCenter for Inter-American Relations, New York, USAGroup
1967Art TodaySyracuse, New York, USAGroup
1965Carmen HerreraCisneros Gallery, New York, USASolo
1965New York Cuban GroupCisneros Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1963Carmen HerreraTrabia Gallery, New York, USASolo
1962Geometric Painting, Classic and RomanticJerrold Morris International Gallery, Toronto, CanadaGroup
1956Carmen HerreraGaleria Sudamericana, New York, USASolo
1955Carmen HerreraEglinton Gallery, Toronto, CanadaSolo
1953Quelques Femmes PeintresGalerie Olga Bogroff, Paris, FranceGroup
1953VIII Salon des Réalités NouvellesMusée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, FranceGroup
1952Peintres de ParisSalon d’Art Moderne, Zurich, SwitzerlandGroup
1952VII Salon des Réalités NouvellesMusée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, FranceGroup
1951Art Cubain ContemporainMusée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, FranceGroup
1951V Salón Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y GrabadoCentro Asturiano de La Habana, Havana, CubaGroup
1951VI Salon des Réalités NouvellesMusée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, FranceGroup
1950Carmen Herrera: PinturasLyceum, Havana, CubaSolo
1950Exposition Artistes Francais et EtrangersLibrairie Morihien, Paris, FranceGroup
1949IV Salon des Réalités NouvellesMusée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, FranceGroup
1937Primera Exposición de Arte ModernoPintura y Escultura Salones del Centro de Dependientes, Havana, CubaGroup
1936XVIII Salón de Bellas ArtesCírculo de Bellas Artes, Havana, CubaGroup
1933Exposición de AutorretratosCírculo de Bellas Artes, Havana, CubaGroup