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  • Provenance

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

  • Catalogue Essay

    Carmen Herrera’s 50-year career has recently come to the attention of scholars and collectors alike, and it looks as though at the age of 100, she is finally receiving a long overdue ovation of recognition. Herrera’s work can be defined as one that consistently seeks formal simplicity and arresting experimentation with color. With crisp lines and a strict contrasting color planes Herrera has unfailingly created works that reflect a sense of symmetry, perspective, and movement. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1915, she moved frequently between there, France, and the US throughout the 1930s and 1940s; having studied architecture at the Universidad de La Habana (1937–38), at the Art Students League, New York (1943–45), and exhibiting several times at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1949–53). She settled in New York in 1954, where she continues to live and work today. During her time in Cuba, Herrera was marked by Amelia Pelaez’s colorful practice—an influence most formally notable in early works where her geometric rigor had yet to reach its most cutting dimension. As she moved toward the pure, geometric abstraction she is known for today, she exhibited alongside Theo van Doesburg, Max Bill, and Piet Mondrian and, after moving to New York, developed a friendship with Barnett Newman who, like Herrera, produced works considered to be precursors to many of the visual concerns later addressed by Minimalist painting. Of her friendship with Newman, Herrera recalled speaking about the nature and essence of abstraction, and it could be said—with great confidence—that her oeuvre is precisely a demand and dialogue for the most essential, simple, and purest form of abstract painting.

    One of the most compelling aspects of Herrera’s trajectory is that it lies at the intersection of the many ways geometric abstraction developed as a conceptual and formal movement in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. As a result Herrera’s practice alternates between the rational and formal compositional concerns, and the stillness, movement, and constructedness of the picture plane. It is a variety that makes one painting a great example in line with US abstract painters’ concern with the compositional order of painting, while making other works in her trajectory much more exemplary of the logic of spatial relations apparent in a certain strand of abstraction in Latin America. In this regard it is important to note that many of her works that exemplify a concern for the constructed geometric plane and that play with the logic of paintings as objects predate artists such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, who have been far more recognized as forerunners in the development of modernist abstraction in Latin America. Herrera’s practice thus grew quietly, but steadily—mostly from her Manhattan studio—as the result of a true cross-cultural dialogue within the international history of geometric and Concrete abstraction. Looking back on her career, Herrera’s work can be described as unwavering in its concern for the relation between picture and space—a characteristic that is true today as ever—and one that that utilizes a limited palette of just two or three colors for each work.

    The present lot is a perfect example of such characteristics. Produced in 1965, the work illustrates that by this period Herrera’s formal principals of abstraction were established and resolute. In addition, it marks a moment in her practice where the frame and its relation to the architectural space come into question. The composition consists of a white canvas within a cobalt blue and white frame, which on two points has been interrupted by blue triangles that emerge from a break in the frame and that dominate the bottom left and upper right hand corners of the piece. Unlike other works in Herrera’s oeuvre where the white canvas recedes into the background to allow color to emerge forward, Basque produces a different kind of movement. Here the white is shifted and squeezed in by both the blue frame and triangles. The frame, thus, has an active role beyond containing the picture; it presents the condition by which the blue and the white seep in and out of the picture plane. In fact, it is thanks to these triangles that what appears to be a flat, compressed space is actually revealed to be a space balancing the tension of multiple possibilities: blue and white, frame and canvas, internal or architectural space. This oscillation is perfectly in line to what the artist has referred to as “alternatives,” or her assertion that the picture is in fact a proposition open to visual interpretations.

  • Artist Biography

    Carmen Herrera

    Cuban / American • 1915

    Carmen Herrera is finally receiving long-deserved recognition for her arresting, hard-edge geometric compositions. Born in Havana in 1915, Herrera spent much of the 1930s and 1940s between Paris and Cuba before settling permanently in New York in 1954. Initially trained as an architect at the Universidad de la Habana, Herrera later studied at the Art Students League in New York City from 1943 to 1947. She received recognition for her artistic accomplishments in postwar Paris, exhibiting alongside Theo van Doesburg, Max Bill, and Piet Mondrian, but was long overlooked upon her return to the male-dominated New York art world. Despite breaking ground simultaneously with her peers, Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith, Herrera was often sidelined as a woman and a Latin American artist.

    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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acrylic on canvas in hand painted artist frame
23 1/2 x 19 1/2 in. (59.7 x 49.5 cm)
Signed, titled and dated "Basque Carmen Herrera 1965" on the reverse.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $437,000

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York Auction 18 November 2015 6pm