Carmen Herrera - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Carmen Herrera’s Green and Orange is a singular work within the artist’s vast body of minimalist, hard-edge paintings that is widely recognized as the demarcation to her mature oeuvre. Presented on an expansive scale, the interlocking planes of color generate a pulsing Op-Art reverb that oscillates the composition between foreground and background, the second and third dimension. Of the “magisterial” Green and Orange, Whitney curator Dana Miller espoused, “Stepped blocks of color create a unified, interlocking composition. The distinction between figure and ground collapses as does the distinction between color and form. Color had now become her form.”i



    Green and Orange has been identified as a milestone in Herrera’s oeuvre. Featured in the groundbreaking 2015 documentary on the artist, The 100 Years Show, the work was positioned as the introductory piece to the history of Herrera’s artistic development at her major retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art from 2016, the first large institutional survey of the artist’s oeuvre. Painted in 1958, the work anticipates the sharp, reduced structures and bright palette that characterized the minimalist aesthetic of the 1960s, dubbed “hard-edge painting” by critic Jules Langster just one year later in 1959.


    In the present work, the sharply delineated lines of green and orange engender a powerful tension between the adjoining planes, snapping the bars in place with a structural articulation that draws from her background in architecture, which the artist studied at the University of Havana in 1938. When Herrera moved to New York with her husband in 1939, she devoted herself to painting, shifting away from figuration and towards abstraction over the next decade. From 1948 to 1953, Herrera resided in Paris, where she became influenced by Russian Suprematism, De Stijl, and Bauhaus. Exhibiting alongside artists including Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, she gravitated towards the more abstract, constructivist vocabulary of the European avant-garde, gradually stripping her paintings down to the essentials of geometry and color.

  • Herrera’s Path to Hard-Edge Abstraction

  • When Herrera made her pivotal return to New York in 1954, she entered an art scene dominated by Abstract Expressionism, where her rational and precise aesthetic was out of place among the impasto canvases of the New York School. As a female, Cuban immigrant in a male-dominated environment, Herrera worked in relative isolation with the exception of close friendships developed with Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith.


    Herrera avidly honed her technique through the late 1950s by exploring the various spatial dynamics between large areas of flat color, simple geometric shapes, and scale. As Dana Miller observes, “After 1958, [Herrera] routinely worked with canvases 60 inches or larger. Before 1958 her works rarely measured larger than 48 inches in either direction.”ii As the present work demonstrates, the artist’s embrace of scale informed her brightened and sharpened palette, allowing Herrera to materialize structured form from pure color through an expanded pictorial space.


    [left] Frank Stella, Fez (2), 1964. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Frank Stella, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Ellsworth Kelly, Orange Green, 1964. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork: © 2021 Ellsworth Kelly

    While her work has been frequently compared to those of Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, Green and Orange arrives at the radical simplicity of hard-edge abstraction many years before her more traditionally lauded male counterparts. Coalescing line, space, and form through arresting simplicity, Green and Orange exuberates chromatic intensity and striking precision of sharp planes that unify the pictorial space in a puzzle-piecing harmony, evoking a sensibility from the artist’s words, “In the chaos that we live in, I like to put some order.”iii


    Collector’s Digest

    "Carmen Herrera was a trailblazer of hard-edged, geometric abstraction, prefiguring Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella. Having forged her path in America, Herrera has finally been recognized within the pantheon of pioneers in 20th century abstraction after the long overdue celebration of her work."
    —Vivian Pfeiffer, Deputy Chairman, Americas

    • Herrera’s world record was achieved in 2019 at $2,900,000 with Blanco y Verde, 1966-1967. Phillips has achieved 4 out of the artist’s top 5 records.


    • The acclaimed 100 Years Show documentary from 2015 directed by Alison Kalyman, the director of the famous Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, played a major role in reinvigorating an interest in Herrera’s work, which culminated in the artist’s Whitney retrospective in 2016. Since her wide-spread institutional recognition, Herrera has had a number of public installations, including a major outdoor exhibition at New York’s City Hall Park organized by the Public Art Fund in 2019.


    • A rare-to-market opportunity, Green and Orange is the earliest large-scale work from Herrera’s mature oeuvre to come to auction.

    i Dana Miller, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, p. 23.
    ii Ibid., p. 39, no. 38.
    iii Carmen Herrera, quoted in Konstantia Kontaxis, Carmen Herrera: 5 Degrees of Freedom, documentary, 2005.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa 2011

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Bronx Museum of the Arts; El Paso Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; San Juan, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña; Vero Beach, Center for the Arts, The Latin American Spirit, Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970, September 29, 1988 - March 31, 1990, no. 97, p. 339 (illustrated, p. 147)
      New York, Latincollector, Carmen Herrera: Five Decades of Painting, May 17 - July 31, 2005
      Birmingham, Ikon Gallery; Kaiserslautern, Museum Pfalzgalerie, Carmen Herrera, July 29, 2009 - May 2, 2010, p. 21 (illustrated)
      New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts; Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (no. 28, p. 248; illustrated, p. 119), Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, September 16, 2016 – April 4, 2018, no. 24, pp. 23, 55, 224 (illustrated, p. 115)

    • Literature

      Grace Glueck, "Art in Review; Carmen Herrera," The New York Times, July 15, 2005, p. E32
      Juan Ledezma, "Carmen Herrera: Edging on Silence: Discourse, Object and Abstraction," Art Nexus, vol. 4, November 2005, p. 72 (illustrated)
      Michael Amy, "Carmen Herrera at LatinCollector," Art in America, January 2006, vol. 94, p. 121
      Ann Landi, "Shaping Up," ARTnews, vol. 109, January 2010, p. 69 (illustrated, p. 68)
      Karen Rosenberg, "A 101-Year-Old Artist Finally Gets Her Due at the Whitney," The New York Times, September 16, 2016, p. 17 (illustrated)
      James Gardner, "Art on the Line: The hard-edged vision of Carmen Herrera," The Weekly Standard, vol. 22, December 19, 2016, p. 38

    • 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.

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished American Collection


Green and Orange

signed, titled and dated ""GREEN & ORANGE" Carmen Herrera 1958" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
60 x 72 in. (152.4 x 182.9 cm)
Painted in 1958.

Full Cataloguing

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,200,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021