Carmen Herrera - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Carmen Herrera, 'Amarillo "Uno"', Lot 38

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Latincollector Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Carmen Herrera, exh. cat., Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2009, p. 22 (illustrated, p. 23)
    Dana Miller, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2017, no. 55, pp. 30, 156 (illustrated, p. 157)

  • Catalogue Essay

    One of the most important works by the artist to come to auction to date, Carmen Herrera’s Amarillo “Uno” is from her renowned series of Estructuras. Conceived in the late 1960s, the Estructuras are the artist’s first explorations in sculpture. Born from schematic drawings, they were based on paintings from earlier in the decade which Herrera claimed were “really crying out to become sculpture” (Carmen Herrera, quoted in "Carmen Herrera: Artist in Exile, Part 3", Frederico Seve Gallery, PBS, 1994, online). The present work is one of the earliest examples made in 1971, of which there are only a handful, each composed of painted wood in different primary colors. The title of the present work perhaps signals its position as the first in the series; its sister work, Amarillo “Dos”, was included in Herrera’s celebrated traveling retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2016 while a blue example is housed in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Recently, Herrera has reprised the concept in a new series of metal Estructuras, large-scale versions which were recently on view this year in City Hall Park, New York in a show organized by the Public Art Fund. This continues what has been a long overdue period of acclaim for the 104 year-old artist.

    The paintings Herrera refers to as those which inspired the Estructuras are more than likely the important Blanco y Verde works, begun at the end of the 1950s. In these paintings, Herrera created a dichotomy between the white canvas and bisecting geometric forms rendered in green. In the later part of the 1960s, Herrera explored the idea of turning these paintings into sculpture through sketches, suggesting that instead of painting these shapes onto canvas, she would cut them out of their existing supports, projecting the painting into the viewer’s space. “It became clear to me that the linear elements in my work required a hard surface to integrate structurally the ‘hard edges’” (Carmen Herrera, quoted in "Carmen Herrera: Artist in Exile, Part 3", Frederico Seve Gallery, PBS, 1994, online). To realize this project, Herrera used the funds she had just received for her second of two awards from the CINTAS Foundation, an organization supporting Cuban artists working outside their home country, to hire a carpenter who would help her build these structures. Soon after initiating the series, however, the carpenter passed away and Herrera was forced to abandon the project, emphasizing the rarity of the early Estructuras.

    Bridging the gap between painting and sculpture, the present work thus represents a pivotal moment in Herrera’s career when she transformed geometric abstraction into three dimensions. After moving back to New York from Paris in 1954, where she was influenced by European avant-garde movements such as Russian Constructivism and Suprematism, Herrera was met with the prevalence of Abstract Expressionism, her work cast aside in favor of paintings by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Despite popular trends, Herrera stuck to her preferred aesthetic, focusing on precise line, color and form, rather than active and tactile brushwork. This was undoubtedly a result of her background in architecture, which she studied in 1938 at the University of Havana before leaving Cuba for the United States. As such, Herrera’s Estructuras have a strong affinity with the work of American minimalists including Donald Judd and Carl Andre, who were at the time of the series’ conception concurrently exploring form and space in their industrial sculptural installations. This is evident not only in the three-dimensionality of the works, but also in the paint she used which has a slightly metallic sheen.

    Despite their emphasis on the space in which they inhabit, Herrera’s Estructuras of 1971 continued what was before, and continued to be, a life-long preoccupation with color. Emphasized by its title, Amarillo “Uno” is first and foremost a celebration of the color yellow, making the pigment the central player in the composition. While the Estructuras were the first monochrome works in Herrera’s oeuvre, their incorporation of the white walls on which they hang, as well as the contrast created by the shadows, make them just as much a study of tonality as the Blanco y Verde paintings. As Whitney curator Dana Miller espoused, “To the best of my knowledge, the Estructuras are Herrera’s only monochromes, though it is probably more accurate to read these as dichromatic, since the white wall showing through the negative space acts as the second color” (Dana Miller, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, p. 30). Further, approaching Amarillo “Uno” from various vantage points reveals different shades of yellow not only within the crevices of the bisecting forms, but also in the reflections of surrounding light as it hits the painted surface.

    In the exhibition catalog accompanying Herrera’s first exhibition in Europe in 2009 at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, curator Carmen Juliá described these notions in the context of the present work: “Amarillo [“Uno”] (1971) is made out of two bright yellow monochrome paintings, that when placed together—one above the other—converge on the central axis, leaving two triangular shapes exposed at either side making the edges of the canvases [sic] the more apparent. The inclusion of real space introduced a new color (white) in the composition, while adding a three-dimensional volume to the canvas [sic] that revealed Herrera’s concern with the physical presence of her painting” (Carmen Juliá, Carmen Herrera, exh. cat., Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2009, p. 22).

    Reinterpreted a different way, the work is also a study in harmony. With the “central” axis just off-center to the left, Amarillo “Uno” reminds us of the artist’s hand behind her precision. When asked in 2016 if works like the present one are meant to express emotion, Herrera said simply “Yes.” Aptly described by Simon Hattenstone, “The deliberate imperfection humanizes the work; it could be a couple cuddling or making love. For such precise, arithmetic art, it is surprisingly sensual. Lines come at each other from all directions, narrowing like arrows, touching, or almost touching. The perfect kiss, or the kiss denied” (Simon Hattenstone, “Carmen Herrera: 'Men controlled everything, not just art'”, The Guardian, December 31, 2016, online).

  • 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 an Important Private New York Collection


Amarillo "Uno"

signed, titled and dated ""AMARILLO UNO" Carmen Herrera.- 1971.-" on the reverse
acrylic on wood, in 2 parts
45 1/4 x 60 1/8 x 3 1/8 in. (114.9 x 152.7 x 7.9 cm.)
Executed in 1971.

$1,300,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,220,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019