Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera charted her own alternative modernism while working in virtual obscurity for some seven decades. While living in New York in the 1950s, where the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement held sway, she made reductive, hard-edged abstractions that predate the work of artists such as Lygia Clark in Brazil and Ellsworth Kelly in the U.S. There’s a particularly striking affinity between Herrera’s work and Kelly’s; notably, the two spent the same years in Paris, from 1948 to 1953, and the Walker’s extensive holdings of Kelly’s paintings, sculptures, and works on paper offer up potential for more dialogue between these artists. Her work also proved prescient as Minimalism and Op Art took hold in the 1960s, and with later minimalist developments in the work of American painters such as Brice Marden and Agnes Martin, both of whom are represented in the collection.
It wasn’t until 2004, at the age of 89, that Herrera sold her first painting; like many women artists of her generation, her work was overlooked despite her friendships and associations with prominent male artists like Barnett Newman. Now, however, the artist and her work are now receiving much-deserved attention as critics and curators investigate overlooked strands of 20th-century art in and beyond the U.S. Herrera’s paintings have entered the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Tate Modern; the Walker’s acquisition is special in that it includes a free-standing sculpture—the only work of its kind by Herrera—as well as three gouche-on-paper works: the blue one, a study for the sculpture, and the red and green studies below.
- 2009 retrospective at the Ikon gallery in Birmingham, UK: Exhibition guide and Frieze review
- Interview in the Guardian: “Carmen Herrera: ‘Every painting has been a fight between the painting and me. I tend to win'”
- New York Times feature: “At 94, She’s the Hot New Thing in Painting”
- Biography from Hispanic Heritage in the Americas
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