Carmen Herrera - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of the Artist
    Latincollector Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008

  • Exhibited

    Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Carmen Herrera – Lines of Sight, December 2, 2017 - April 8, 2018, no. 46, p. 147 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016, no. 39, p. 28 (illustrated, p. 139)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The most significant painting by Carmen Herrera yet to come to auction, Blanco y Verde exemplifies the achievements the pioneering artist attained in the 1960s. Painted in 1966, this work is one of only 14 known extant versions of Herrera’s seminal Blanco y Verde series that she created between 1959 and 1971. The coveted series is now widely regarded as Herrera’s most significant body of work in her nearly 80 year career, with such revered institutions as Tate, London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, acquiring examples for their permanent collections in the past seven years. Remaining in Herrera’s personal collection for over four decades, Blanco y Verde made its public debut at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, in 2017 as one of the major highlights featured in Herrera’s watershed retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. This December, Herrera’s undisputed place within the annals of post-war abstraction will be further highlighted in the aptly titled exhibition Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    A perfectly calibrated force field of pure form and color, Blanco y Verde exemplifies how Herrera broke ground at the same time as artists like Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. The series presents the culmination of Herrera’s “process of purification” that she had commenced 16 years earlier, with her decisive move to geometric abstraction in 1950. After discovering the movements of Bauhaus and Russian Suprematism in Paris, Herrera returned to New York in 1954, a city she had first moved to 15 years prior, and continued to hone her distilled geometric compositions characterized by a precision of line and a dichromatic color palette.

    Herrera had been highly respected in the cosmopolitan Parisian milieu, exhibiting work alongside Theo van Doesburg, Max Bill and Piet Mondrian, but found it harder to find a footing in the male-dominated New York art world as a female, Cuban immigrant artist. Despite close friendships with Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith, she worked in relative isolation and obscurity. She was occasionally included in exhibitions with a Latin American focus, yet, as she later stated, she felt “terrible about it. I don’t want to be a Latin American painter or a woman painter…I’m a painter” (Carmen Herrera, quoted in Carmen Herrera, Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016, p. 24).

    And yet, as Hilton Kramer pointed out in 1968 upon seeing Herrera’s work at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York, “Though the purpose of this group exhibition is to report on the accomplishments of Latin-American artists living in New York, it is the New York rather than the Latin-American aspect of the enterprise that remains uppermost in the eye of the spectator…Miss Herrera works in a severe, very concise geometrical idiom with complete authority.” One particular work, a Blanco y Verde, specifically led him to assert that it “is quite the best picture she has yet exhibited” (Hilton Kramer, “Art: Beckman in Black and Black and White”, The New York Times, January 6, 1968, online).

    More than 50 years later this series is now widely celebrated, particularly as it relates to Herrera’s lifelong fascination with three-dimensional structures. As curator Dana Miller indeed observed, “These particular Blanco y Verde paintings unfold in the same way sculpture does when circumnavigated; they only reveal themselves when seen in person” (Dana Miller, Carmen Herrera, Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016, p. 28). Subtle variations in the shape, scale and placement of green and white triangular forms pervade the series, with the compositions wrapping around all four edges of canvas. While demonstrating Herrera’s goal of focusing the viewer’s attention on the materiality of the painting-as-object, the triangular forms, as the artist recently allowed, also appear like cuts in the canvas – suggesting a three-dimensionality that projects outside the confines of the picture plane.

    Employing the central tenets of drafting she had learnt in her architecture classes at the Universidad de La Habana in Cuba, Herrera typically based the visual execution of her paintings on arithmetic calculations and meticulous preparatory drawings. The rectangular forms with wedge-shaped slices she imagined on paper clearly correlate to her Blanco y Verde series, as well as anticipate the rare group of Estructuras (Structures). Receiving her second grant from the CINTAS Foundation in 1968, Herrera hired a carpenter to help her actualize the “objectness” of her paintings in three dimensions, yet was forced to abandon the project in 1971 as funds began running low. Only very recently, starting in 2012, has Herrera once again been able to continue this sculptural vision.

    Works such as the present one remained in obscurity for over four decades, carefully selected by Herrera to remain in her small home studio in New York. Unseen to the larger public for more than 50 years, Blanco y Verde exalts the unwavering vision of one of the hitherto most under recognized abstract painters of the past century.

  • Artist Biography

    Carmen Herrera

    Cuban / American • 1915

    At the age of 101, Carmen Herrera is finally receiving long-deserved recognition for her arresting, hard-edge geometric compositions. Born in Cuba in 1915, Herrera has spent most of her life outside the island, permanently settling in New York in the mid-1950s. Herrera was formally trained as an architect at the Universidad de la Habana, and later completed studies at the Art Students League in New York from 1943 to 1945. During this time she became acquainted with key figures of postwar abstraction including Barnett Newman, whose work undoubtedly influenced Herrera's minimalist aesthetic.

    Herrera's work is chiefly concerned with formal simplicity and experimentation with bold color. Through the use of sharp lines and stark color contrasts, she creates dynamic and technically sophisticated compositions that reflect movement, balance and symmetry.

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Property from a Distinguished American Collection


Blanco y Verde

signed, titled and dated ““BLANCO Y VERDE” Carmen Herrera.- 1966” on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
40 1/8 x 45 1/4 in. (101.9 x 114.9 cm.)
Painted in 1966.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $2,655,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018