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

Untitled

Details
Carmen Herrera (Cuban b. 1915)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Carmen Herrera, Paris 1952' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
11¼ x 14½ in. (28.6 x 36.2 cm.)
Painted in Paris in 1952.
Provenance
María Teresa Ginerés collection, Havana (acquired directly from the artist).
Acquired from the above.

Lot Essay

“There were a lot of revolutions—and I mean bloody revolutions,” Herrera has remarked of her adolescence in Havana. “The universities and high schools were closed, but I went to a place called the Lyceum, which was a kind of club that a couple of women had started.”[1] The celebrated institutional haven of Cuba’s historical vanguardia, the Lyceum promoted culture and the arts, offering academic lectures and classes alongside social services and vocational training. Herrera studied sculpture there under María Teresa Ginerés in the early 1930s, following a yearlong stay in Paris and before beginning to train as an architect, at the University of Havana, in 1937. Her studies soon interrupted by political upheaval—and, no less, by her marriage in 1939 and subsequent departure for New York—she later returned to her practice of painting, enrolling first at the Art Students League. More decisive, however, was her encounter with the legacy of early twentieth-century constructivism, from the Bauhaus through the contemporary Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, in Paris, where she lived between 1948 and 1953.

“Color is the essence of my painting,” Herrera has declared, emphasizing its structural and expressive significance. “What starts to happen to it as you reduce its numbers and come down to two colors, then there is a subtlety, an intensity in the way two colors relate to each other. . . . For me, black and white are colors. I do not see them as anything but colors. These paintings are about rigor, about setting up a challenge for myself as a painter.”[2] Like her first black-and-white paintings of 1951-52— Verticales, Diagonal, and Untitled—the present work marshals the austere simplicity of color through architectonic structure and clean, optical rhythms. The surface vibrates along implicit diagonal axes, setting off a dynamic perceptual effect through the mirroring symmetry of black-and-white blocks. At a smaller scale and in oil, rather than acrylic paint, this Untitled reveals a specially intimate, handmade quality: visible brushstrokes both reinforce the vertical geometry of the composition and soften its edges and color. “My paintings sometimes are very bold and filled with risk; other times they are subtle,” Herrera acknowledges. “I see my paintings at a crossroads, they have much in common with geometry, with minimalism, yet they are neither. To me they are good paintings that do not fit into easy categories.” [3]


Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1) Carmen Herrera, quoted in Ann Landi, “Shaping Up,” ARTnews 109, no. 1 (January 2010): 66, 68.
2) Herrera, quoted in Alejandro Anreus, “Carmen Herrera in the Context of Modern Painting in Cuba,” in Carmen Herrera: The Black and White Paintings, 1951-1989, ed. Carolina Ponce de León (New York: El Museo del Barrio, 1998), 18, 20.
3) Ibid., 20.
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