Claiming Carmen Herrera

Lines of Sight at the Whitney Museum

/ 25 November, 2016

After seven long decades of living in New York, Carmen Herrera Nieto (Havana 1915) is still one of the best-kept secrets in American art, as well as within the art scene in Cuba where she was born. Herrera’s persona and body of work have been surrounded by a mantle of silence that the exhibition Lines of Sight (September 16, 2016 – January 2, 2017) at the Whitney Museum of American Art has helped to unveil.

Lines of Sight was curated by Dana Miller, former curator of collections of the Whitney Museum, and focuses on the years in which Herrera developed her signature style, 1948 -1978, years in which she intensively traveled between New York, Paris and Havana. The exhibit takes into account a significant representation of fifty artworks between drawings, paintings and sculptures—or Estructuras, as Herrera named them.

For Carmen Herrera the road has been lonesome, silent and long, but her determination and vision have helped keep her focused, walking through time as if it was a hot vast desert, without being scared, without requesting favors or fawning, going solo and with dignity, each step forward.

“Always I have been fascinated by time.” Herrera mentioned in an interview, and continued philosophically, “Time doesn’t exist actually.”[1] After a long life, today at 101 years old she is alive to witness a long withheld but deserved recognition by the international art world.

Lines of Sight is not only the first retrospective of Carmen Herrera in one of the major international museums;[2]  it is also a way of claiming her as an international artist without totally scrapping her Cuban/Latina origins, but also without seriously questioning her absence from the international art historical narrative. Perhaps after seventy years of living and working in New York City side by side with some of the most relevant American artists, this is an official welcoming into the canon of American art, a gesture that solidifies her stature as one of the most remarkable female visual artists of the 20th century.

(…) At the Whitney Museum, the exhibition space is gracefully divided in four grand sections that follow a chronological path: “Paris 1948 – c. 1954”, “New York, 1954 – 1965”, “The Blanco y Verde Series 1959 – 1971”, and “Painting, Drawing and Estructura, 1962 – 1978”. The artworks are enhanced by the simple sophistication of the new Renzo Piano building. The wall texts are at minimum, leaving the artwork to stand out by itself and loudly voice Herrera’s innovation and long vision.

(…) The exhibition has a major catalog with essays by curator Miller, who provides an eye-opening summary of the relevance of Herrera’s work, and three art historians: Gerardo Mosquera, who unsuccessfully addresses her relationship with Cuba, Serge Lemoine, who writes about her Parisian years, and Prof Edward Sullivan, who provides an insightful overview of her position as a Latin American artist. (…)

 

 

[1] Obrist, Hans Ulrich. “Carmen Herrera. The Quiet Revolutionary”. Latin America, Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, Sept 20, 2010, p 37.

[2] In the US Herrera has had several retrospectives at institutions that no longer exist. Carmen Herrera. A Retrospective 1951-1984 (Dec 19, 1984 – Jan 19, 1985), The Alternative Museum, New York; Carmen Herrera: Five Decades of Painting. (May 17 – July 31, 2005), Latin Collector, New York and The Forms of Silence: Carmen Herrera Abstract Works 1948-1976 (Sep 21 -Nov 13, 2005), Miami Art Central, Miami.

 

 

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