Carmen Herrera - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Possessing an assertive quietude, Noche Verde embodies the late artist Carmen Herrera’s quest for “the simplest of pictorial solutions” throughout her career.i She received long-overdue institutional accolade after working in obscurity for nearly seven decades, with a major survey show that opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016. The present work, painted the same year as the survey, exemplifies her commitment to phrasing and rephrasing the subtle dynamics between and within form and color, as well as the schematic possibilities afforded by the utmost economy of means. 


    The dichromatic composition commands a gravitational pull at the junction of black and green, as two L-shaped forms—seemingly identical at first glance—interlock to form a perfect square. The green form, ever so slightly larger than the black, weighs down on the black form which in turn resists upwards against its counterpart. The crisp line separating the shapes engenders an optical illusion whereby the green passage immediately adjacent to the black appears brighter than the rest of the hue. The canvas exudes tension and instability as the viewer’s eye wanders, restlessly searching for a point of focus to no avail.

    "My quest is for the simplest of pictorial resolutions."
    —Carmen Herrera
    A strong proponent of the structural and compositional significance of color, Herrera emphasizes the sensory intensity of chromatic choices in her works such as Noche Verde, endeavoring to find pairings in which each color can withstand the pressure of the other and neither the hues nor values clash. This would not be the first time that Herrera employed the iconic pairing of black and green, which can also be found in the works of her peers, such as Ellsworth Kelly. In works such as Wednesday, 1978, Black and Green, 1975, and Diptych, 1978, Herrera juxtaposes slightly brighter shades of evergreen against black, exploring tilted angles within the rectangular compositional frames. Noche Verde is not only a tribute to this earlier period, but is also a departure from the explicit instability into an even more subtle and sophisticated sense of internal dynamism and contemplative energy.  

  • As shown in Noche Verde, Herrera’s inquisitive attitude and analytic approach towards image-making is reflected in her exercise of deliberation and calibration of color and form. This is underscored by her meticulous methodology, where she would begin each composition by making several preparatory drawings on translucent vellum paper with rulers and pencils. As the artist professed in an interview, “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.”ii Indeed, Herrera’s penchant for linearity and orthogonality was fostered long ago when she trained as an architect at the Universidad de La Havana in 1938. The formal and logical clarity of technical drafting made a lasting impression on the artist and had a distinctive influence on the facture of her most iconic paintings, such the present work, where a proclivity for strict linearity is emphasized.  


    Herrera’s geometric, hard-edge, and abstract style also owes much to her years in Paris (1948-1954) when the artist exhibited at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, during which she “simplified her work, abandoning frames and simply emphasizing structure, limiting her palette, and giving preeminence to rhythm.”iii After her return to New York, Herrera continued to create radically geometric and diagrammatic abstractions despite the predominance of action paintings in the 1960s New York art scene. Her experience living, studying, and creating on both sides of the Atlantic, combined with her upbringing and education in Havana, provided her with a sense of transcultural fluidity that transcends any schools or “isms.” A culmination of the artist’s decades-long preoccupation with abstraction and form, Noche Verde captures the artist’s fundamental contribution to the history of Minimalism, executed at the age of 101.


    The artist at work in her studio, c. 2015. Artwork: © Carmen Herrera. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery. Photography by Jason Schmidt

    i “Carmen Herrera | Artists,” Lisson Gallery, accessed October 6, 2022, online.
    ii Dana Miller, “Carmen Herrera: Sometimes I Win,” in Miller et al., Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2016, p. 22.
    iii Serge Lemoine, “Paris est une fête,” in Miller et al., p. 64.

    • Provenance

      Lisson Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017

    • 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 an Important Private American Collection


Noche Verde

signed, titled and dated ""noche verde" Carmen Herrera.- 20-16. Carmen Herrera. 20-16.-" on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $567,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022