Abstract Painter Carmen Herrera Sadly Passed Away at 106
Sadly, artist Carmen Herrera passed away on Saturday, February 12, 2022, at the loft in Lower Manhattan where she had been there for 60 years. Her friend, Tony Bechara, confirmed her death at the age of 106.
Carmen Herrera was a Cuban-born artist who painted abstract geometric patterns in Paris and New York for most of her long life, going mostly unrecognized until her canvases started selling at the age of 89 when she catapulted to international recognition.
Ms. Herrera advanced into old age unnoticed by the commercial markets, savoring only the solitary pleasures of all struggling artists: creating wonders for their own sake.
In an art world that worships the new and the young, Ms. Herrera advanced into old age unnoticed by the commercial markets, savoring only the solitary pleasures of all struggling artists: creating wonders for their own sake.
Years passed, then decades, and then a half-century. Her brushes patiently produced austere geometric structures, like visual haiku, in harsh black-and-white and then in vibrant colors: triangles and trapezoids, curvy shells, rondos, and diamonds floating in a pure white-canvas cosmos.
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More about Carmen Herrera’s Life and Career
Solo exhibits in New York and London were met with critical acclaim in art periodicals and the general press. Herrera’s touring retrospective was a smash all throughout Europe. MoMA, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, the Tate Modern in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis have all purchased her work for their permanent collections. Her art was also taken up by private collectors. Interviews were in high demand.
Her artworks’ value skyrocketed. By 2009, they were selling for $50,000 apiece, and by 2014, they were fetching up to $160,000 – figures inconceivable when Ms. Herrera was in her eighties. “How could we have missed these exquisite compositions?” asked the Observer of London, referring to her work as the find of the decade.
Much of her newfound wealth was spent on round-the-clock assistants, allowing her to remain in the studio loft she had occupied for nearly 50 years. “The money is helpful because, to my surprise, you need a lot of care near the end of life,” she told The Telegraph of London. “If I didn’t, I’d wind up in a nursing home.” And I’m not looking forward to it.”
Ms. Herrera, Giacometti slim with wire-rim glasses and shoulder-length, bone-white hair, was a regal woman in a wheelchair, suffering from arthritis but still painting, by her 94th year. How had she managed to stay in the public eye after decades of anonymity?
As she approached 100 years old in 2015, her place in the modern art canon was cemented by the release of Alison Klayman’s half-hour documentary “The 100 Years Show,” as well as the inclusion of Ms. Herrera’s diptych “Blanco y Verde” (1959), alongside works by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, and Jasper Johns, at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new Meatpacking District location.
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Carmen Herrera’s Personal Life
On May 31, 1915, Carmen Herrera was born in Havana, Cuba, to Antonio Xavier Herrera and Carmen Nieto. Her father was the founding editor of El Mundo, a newspaper in Havana, and her mother worked there as a correspondent.
Carmen was raised in a wealthy and well-educated family, surrounded by art, music, and literature. Langston Hughes, the poet, and leader of the Harlem Renaissance were among the guests.
She studied art and mastered French and English in Havana before continuing her studies at the Marymount International School in Paris. She went on to study architecture at the University of Havana but dropped out due to the upheaval surrounding the military dictator Fulgencio Batista’s ascension to power. In 1939, she married Mr. Lowenthal, who was visiting Cuba. They didn’t have any children.
Ms. Herrera studied at the Art Students League for several years after marrying and relocating to New York. From 1948 until 1953, she and her husband resided in Paris, where she created a style that incorporated vibrant colors and clearly defined geometric designs. Her work was shown with Josef Albers’, Jean Arp’s, and other postwar abstract painters.
By the time she returned to New York in 1954, her vision of abstract geometric forms had taken a fateful turn, becoming simpler in conception, often in black and white, and trending toward a Minimalist style, in contrast to the larger-than-life works of friends like Abstract Expressionists Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, whose broad gestures on canvas were becoming increasingly popular.
Reactions to Carmen Herrera’s Death
Several fans, friends, and supporters reacted and stated their condolences on social media websites following this tragic news.
David Beard tweeted: “Painter Carmen Herrera was in her 20s when she began refining a version of geometric abstraction. A show when she was 35 bombed. She kept going. Her big break came at 89. ‘I never met a straight line I did not like’.”
One wrote: “Remembering Carmen Herrera and my 2016 visits to her NYC home-studio for interviews for @WSJ and @cubanartnews. Even at 101, she was a disciplined, determined artist. And a discerning scotch-drinker. Painting into infinity. #CarmenHerrera #abstractartist #cubanamerican #Maestra”
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