Carmen Herrera, Cuban-born abstract artist, dies at 106
Cuban-born artist Carmen Herrera, whose vibrant colors and geometric paintings were overlooked for decades before the art world took notice, has died. She was 106 years old.
Artist Antonio Bechara told The New York Times that Herrera died Saturday at her Manhattan home.
Stardom finally came at age 89, when Herrera sold his first painting in 2004.
It may have taken 60 years for Herrera to be discovered, but today her paintings – minimalist compositions of straight lines, shapes and colors – are in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American. Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. York and the Tate Modern in London.
“The heart of Carmen Herrera’s painting is a search for formal simplicity and a striking sense of color,” according to the London-based Lisson Gallery. “A master of sharp lines and contrasting chromatic planes, Herrera creates symmetry, asymmetry and an endless variety of movement, rhythm and spatial tension on the canvas.”
In 2009, the Observer of London asked: “How could we miss these beautiful compositions?
Herrera said she painted because she had to.
“It’s a compulsion that also gives me pleasure. I never had a clue about money in my life and I thought fame was a very vulgar thing. … And at the end of my life, I receive a lot of recognition, to my amazement and delight,” she said in a 2009 interview.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1915, Herrera was the daughter of the founding editor of the Havana-based newspaper El Mundo and a journalist mother.
She studied architecture at a university in Havana and moved often between Cuba and Paris in the 1930s and 1940s. She trained at the Art Students League in New York where she settled in the mid-1950s after having married Jesse Lowenthal, a literature teacher at Stuyvesant High School. He died in 2000.
Working as a female artist in post-war America was a difficult challenge, she said.
“People weren’t ready to receive my work,” Herrera told the Observer in 2010. She remembers how an avant-garde New York gallerist told her bluntly, “Carmen, you can paint circles around the male artists I have but I’m ‘I’m not going to give you a show because you’re a woman.’
But being an unknown artist had its perks, she says; it meant she could work for herself, not for someone else.
In the late 2000s she had solo exhibitions at the Museum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern in Germany and the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, and a decade earlier at the Museo del Barrio in New York.
Herrera’s art can also be found in many other museums, including the Hirshhorn Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, as well as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.