Cuban American Geometrical Abstract painter Carmen Herrera (b. 1915, Havana) waited a very long time to get her hard-earned props from the art world. The artist’s first career retrospective, 2016– 2017 Lines Of Sight at New York City’s Whitney Museum finally provided a showcase for her minimalist, color field paintings, alongside a selection of her geometric, monochromatic sculptures — which she simply calls Estructuras (Structures). While it’s disappointing to realize that, at 104 years of age, Carmen Herrera isn’t quite a household name, the NYC-based Public Art Fund is doing its part to expose her works to a wider audience by sponsoring Estructuras Monumentales, Herrera’s first major exhibition of outdoor sculptures, which are currently on view in City Hall Park. This park is a short walk from my office, to so I walked over on my lunch hour to check it out.
Herrera’s Estructuras series of sculptures, informed by her architectural training, date back to the 1960s with a group of diagrammatic sketches. She envisioned large-scale monochromatic sculptures that would extend the experience of her luminous paintings into three dimensions. Until recently, these historic proposals have remained unrealized. With Estructuras Monumentales, this remarkable artist is now able to share her powerful structures with public audiences for the first time. Here are the five structures located in City Hall Park.
Herrera still paints and creates every day, but Angul Rojo (2017) is the first Estructura that she has designed in more than three decades. Its red chevron composition conveys movement and rhythm with a bold dynamism reminiscent of many of her most iconic paintings.
Herrera originally conceived Pavanne, (1967/2017) as a monument to her younger brother, Mariano, who was then dying of cancer. The three tightly fit, interlocking elements of this solemn work encourage quiet contemplation, while the title references the musical term for a slow processional dance with funereal overtones.
Amarillo Tres, 1971/2018. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Herrera began to work with a carpenter to translate her drawings into wooden sculptural Estructuras. That resulted in the important smaller Azul ‘Tres’ (1971), on which this monumental Estructura is based. Herrera was forced to temporarily halt this endeavor when the carpenter she worked with passed away and the grant stipend that had supported the work began to dwindle.
Estructura Verde (1966/2018) most clearly expresses the evolution from Herrera’s paintings to her Estructuras. Her breakthrough Blanco y Verde (1966–67) series of paintings on canvas created long, acute wedges of dark paint among white expanses. This sculpture translates and inverts that arrangement, with two bold green interlocked L-shaped forms, which encompass slivers of negative space, incorporating the sculpture’s surroundings into its dynamic composition.
Untitled Estructura (Red), (1962/2018). Carmen Herrera’s Estructuras can be appreciated for their formal poetry, yet they can also be seen in the context of her life. In October of 1962, the confrontation between the United States and Cuba escalated to the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which Herrera and her husband Jesse Lowenthal were deeply involved in helping friends, family, and refugees escape the conflict. The overhanging cantilevered arrangement of this Estructura might abstractly allude to the tensions between Herrera’s adopted and native countries at the moment she conceived this work.
Carmen Herrera: Estructuras Monumentales, Curated by Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer, Will Be On View in City Hall Park (Located in Lower Manhattan) Through November 8th, 2019.