Saturday December 16, 2017

Sneak Preview: Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight

Opening tomorrow in New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Photo: Cuban Art News

At yesterday’s media preview, Whitney director Adam Weinberg and exhibition curator Dana Miller spoke movingly about Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, Herrera’s art, and her place in the art world. Cuban Art News offers an advance look at one of the season’s most highly anticipated exhibitions.

“This is an important show for the Whitney, it’s an important show for New York, and it’s an important show for the United States and the art world,” said Weinberg, adding that the intention is, in part, about “making sure that Carmen’s role in the art world takes its rightful place.”

(For more shots of the exhibition, see the album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page. And read our interview with her here.)

Visitors are first greeted by what are, chronologically, the last works in the exhibition: Herrera’s series “Days of the Week,” seven striking canvases arrayed on two walls facing the elevators.

Carmen Herrera, five works in her "Days of the Week" series. From left: Wednesday, 1978; Tuesday, 1978; Sunday, 1978; Friday, 1978; and Thursday, 1978

Photo: Cuban Art News

On a nearby wall, the two remaining "Days of the Week" canvases, from left: Blue Monday, 1975; and Saturday, 1978

Photo: Cuban Art News

The first gallery addresses Herrera’s formative Paris years, 1948 through 1953 or early 1954. The early paintings, noted Weinberg, “are almost like maps—you’re looking [from the] outside, and then bit by bit you go into the paintings.”

Many of the works in the exhibition are being presented in a museum setting for the first time.

The earliest works in the exhibition, on view in the first gallery

Photo: Cuban Art News

The exhibition’s second gallery addresses Herrera’s work in Paris and New York, tracing the shift to straight-edged forms and two colors. In these years Herrera also began making works composed of multiple panels, and painting the edges of the canvas and the frames—treating the works as three-dimensional objects.

The second gallery features works from Herrera's later Paris years and her return to New York

Photo: Cuban Art News

Below, from left: Untitled, 1952, made of four panels, with painted frame; Black and White, 1952, with painted frame; and Green and White, 1956, with painted frame.

Works by Carmen Herrera made in Paris and New York in the early 1950s

Photo: Cuban Art News

Herrera considers “Blanco y Verde” her most important series, and the exhibition gathered together an unprecedented nine (of a known 15 surviving works), shown together in one gallery.

“Although Herrera is fond of the maxim ‘Less is more,’ when viewing her work I firmly believe that ‘more is more,’” said curator Dana Miller at the media preview.

“Each individual painting is stunning, but it is only when you see several, and you see them in the flesh, that you understand and appreciate the precision and intelligence of each of her decisions: the proportions of color, the subtle inflections of an angle, the way her work reads from various vantage points.”

“I would argue that the appropriate maxim for Carmen is not ‘less is more,’ but ‘more with less’.”

An installation view of the gallery featuring the series "Blanco y Verde"

Photo: Cuban Art News

Several of the “Blanco y Verde” works have green-painted edges. Viewed from head-on, one sees fields of white ringed by barely discernible hints of color.

Side view of two "Blanco y Verde" paintings showing how Herrera integrated the canvas edge into her compositions

Photo: Cuban Art News

The final gallery features paintings, drawings, and the three-dimensional works that Herrera calls Estructuras, dating from 1962–1978.

“We can see in the Estructuras and the rare drawings of the 1960s that many of her compositions, including her paintings, began with sculptural concepts,” said Miller, “and that her early architectural training was essential to her way of working.”

Installation view of the exhibition's final gallery, featuring the three-dimensional Estructuras and other works

Photo: Cuban Art News 

“When the art history textbooks are rewritten to include Herrera—and I do believe they will be—her first mention should not come in the 21st century,” said Miller, “but rather, when she began to make her pioneering works, in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s—works she was making when she couldn’t find gallery representation and she was all but ignored by museums. In part, I should say, because of discrimination against her as both a woman and an immigrant.”

A side view reveals the three-dimensional quality of Carmen Herrera's Amarillo "Dos", 1971; at right, Ávila, 1974

Photo: Cuban Art News

“In many ways, she is a woman ahead of her time,” Miller concluded. “She was, and she still is.”

Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight opens tomorrow, September 16, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Chelsea, where it runs through January 2. It will be presented at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, February 2–April 16, 2017.

For more shots of the exhibition, see the album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page.

Susan Delson has been the New York editor of Cuban Art News since 2009. A former member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art education department, as editor she has worked with the Museum of Modern Art, Asia Society, El Museo del Barrio, and other institutions. Her books include the film study/biography Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card and (as editor) Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals. As a magazine editor, she has worked at Forbes, Louise Blouin Media, and other companies.