Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)
Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)


Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)
signed, dated, and titled 'AVILA 1974 Carmen Herrera' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
44 7/8 x 59 7/8 in. (113.9 x 152 cm.)
Painted in 1974.
latincollector, New York (acquired directly from the artist).
Exhibition catalogue, Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings 1951-1989, New York, El Museo del Barrio, 1998, no. 13, p. 20 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Carmen Herrera, Birmingham, UK and Kaiserslautern, Germany, Ikon Gallery and Museum Pfalzgalerie, 2009, p. 49 (illustrated in color).
New York, El Museo del Barrio, Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings 1951-1989, 17 April- 28 June 1998, no. 13.
Birmingham, UK, Ikon Gallery, Carmen Herrera, 29 July- 13 September 2009. This exhibition also travelled to Kaiserslautern, Germany, Museum Pfalzgalerie, 23 January- 2 May 2010.

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Lot Essay

"That's a painting I cherish, Avila," Carmen Herrera admitted in a recent interview with Hans Obrist Ulrich. "At that particular time I was reading [Santa Teresa of Ávila's] letters. She was a very politically aware lady. One of the letters was absolutely hysterical. It was an interview with Philip II--between Santa Teresa of Ávila, a lady like this [indicates she was small], but a strong woman, and the King. I think people are mistaken when they think that women are not strong. Women are very strong. We hide it, but we are strong."[1]

Herrera can speak at first hand to the quiet tenacity of women in confronting the gendered politics of their time. After struggling for decades to gain recognition in the male-dominated New York art world, she was proclaimed "the hot new thing in painting" at the age of 94 by The New York Times.[2] Indeed, the remarkable trajectory of her career spans a half-century, having moved in sync with the rise of postwar geometric painting in Latin America, Paris, and New York. Born in Havana and trained as an architect, Herrera lived in Paris between 1948 and 1954, encountering there the legacies of early twentieth-century constructivism from the Bauhaus through the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. Later in New York, Herrera evolved a rigorous and meditative practice grounded in hard-edged and minimalist languages of abstraction, working in a milieu that included her friends Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly, and Leon Polk Smith.

Avila belongs to an important series of black-and-white paintings from the 1970s, some of which evolved out of an interest in sixteenth-century Catholic Spain. Like Almagro and Escorial, both from the same year, Avila posits an austere chiaroscuro in its architectonics of converging, symmetrical blocks of color. Its structural eloquence, asserted through rigorous, optical geometries, shifts the space of color forward, pushing outward toward the viewer. "Avila could be a sculpture too actually," Herrera allows. "But it has also the feeling of hands embracing you. I like the openness of the arms there."[3]

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Carmen Herrera, quoted in Hans Ulrich Obrist, "Carmen Herrera: The Quiet Revolutionary," in Latin America, 29 September 2010, New York (New York: Phillips de Pury & Company, 2010), 35.
2 Deborah Sontag, "At 94, She's the Hot New Thing in Painting," The New York Times (19 December 2009).
3 Herrera, quoted in Obrist, "Carmen Herrera," 35.

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