Carmen Herrera - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "There is nothing I love more than to make a straight line. How can I explain it? It’s the beginning of all structures really."
    —Carmen Herrera

    A meticulous rendering of cobalt blue triangular forms perfectly calibrated into a warm field of white, Basque is a timeless example of Carmen Herrera’s lauded oeuvre of geometric, hard-edge abstractions. Created in 1965, the work hails from the pinnacle of the artist’s practice when she had refined her mature aesthetic. Basque balances the tension between color and line, canvas and support, second and third dimensions in painterly and architectonic harmony. With the artist’s recent passing at 106 years old, Basque preserves the extraordinary legacy of the Cuban-American painter who devoted herself to “a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn’t essential.”i 


    Carmen Herrera in her studio in Paris, ca. 1948-1953. Image: © Carmen Herrera, Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

    "Painting the frame is my defense of the work, my way of protecting it."
    —Carmen Herrera

    In 1952, during her critical sojourn in Paris (1948-1953), Herrera began hand-painting her frames as a compositional device, which became one of the most significant breakthroughs of her career. By painting the edges of the canvas as well as its support, Herrera crafted a highly innovative method of integrating the canvas’s surrounding environment to foreground the materiality and “objectness” of her works. For Basque, Herrera alternated the color of the frame with that of the canvas edge, engendering a distinct sense of movement whereby the colors teeter in and out of the picture plane. Endowed with a remarkable sculptural quality, Basque, like the best of Herrera’s works, “function[s] as a totality: color, form, surface, and edge are all enlisted in service to the composition,” as Dana Miller explained.ii In Basque, Herrera reveals her painterly virtuosity in transforming a two-dimensional medium into an architectural space through “a process,” in her words, “that must choose, among innumerable possibilities, the one that balances reason and visual execution.”iii 



    "In the chaos that we live in, I like to put some order."
    —Carmen Herrera

    Manifesting the formal principles Herrera had established the prior decade, Basque also marks the artist’s return to painting after a hiatus of several years. Herrera, who exhibited alongside Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers in Paris, officially settled in New York in 1954 where she befriended artists such as Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith, both of whom had a profound impact on her stylistic development. It was during these pivotal years that she developed her signature hard-edge style. Gradually paring down her paintings to two colors, the artist had resolved the distinction between color and form by making color her form, arriving at the radical simplicity and arresting precision seen in Basque


    Piet Mondrian, Composition with Double Line and Blue, 1935. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel


    Like Herrera’s Iberia No. 25 of 1948, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Basque prefigures the artist’s nod to Spain which she further explored in a later group of black-and-white works including Escorial and Avila, 1974. “In these instances,” Miller observed, “we get rare glimpses of Herrera locating visual sources in the world around her.”iv The artist had certainly been to the Basque Country by the time of the present work’s creation, including a trip to San Sebastián with her husband in 1953 after her residency in Paris. In the present work, Herrera’s use of her signature cobalt blue—a prominent color in her oeuvre—and the warm white employed in her seminal Blanco y Verde series (1959-1971) appears to suggest the essence of the eponymous coastal locale. This evocation in Basque precisely embodies what the artist called “alternatives,” or her assertion that the picture is open to visual interpretations. A testament to Herrera’s singular vision that has situated her in the canon of post-war abstraction, Basque ultimately materializes the artist’s proverbial words: “My quest is for the simplest of pictorial resolutions.”v 


    Collector’s Digest


    • The acclaimed 2015 documentary, The 100 Years Show, played a major role in reinvigorating interest in the artist’s work, which culminated in the artist’s seminal Whitney retrospective, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, 2016-2017.


    • Since her wide-spread institutional recognition, Herrera 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. Her works currently reside in numerous major museum collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tate, London.


    Basque achieved the artist’s world auction record at the time of its sale in 2015 at Phillips in New York. Phillips has achieved 4 out of the artist’s top 5 world auction records to date.

    i Carmen Herrera, quoted in “Remembering Carmen Herrera,” Lisson Gallery, February 16, 2022, online.
    ii Dana Miller, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, p. 23.
    iii Carmen Herrera, quoted in Carmen Herrera: A Retrospective, 1951-1984, exh. cat., The Alternative Museum, New York, 1984, p. 4.
    iv Dana Miller, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, p. 34.
    v Carmen Herrera, quoted in Estrellita B. Brodsky, “Ascetic Equation,” in Dorothy Feaver, ed., Carmen Herrera: Works on Paper, 2010-2012, exh. cat., Lisson Gallery, New York, 2013, p. 7.

    • Provenance

      Rastovski Gallery, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Phillips, New York, November 18, 2015, lot 10
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, December 2, 2017–April 8, 2018, no. 39, p. 248 (illustrated, p. 134; detail illustrated, p. 135)

    • Literature

      Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016, no. 33, p. 128 (illustrated; detail illustrated, p. 129)

    • 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 of an Important Private Collector



signed, titled and dated ""BASQUE" Carmen Herrera 1965" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas, in hand-painted artist’s frame
23 5/8 x 19 1/2 in. (60 x 49.5 cm)
Painted in 1965.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $1,603,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

Carolyn Mayer
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+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022