Dickinson New York presents an important, privately-owned collection of works by Cuban-American abstract painter Carmen Herrera (b. 1915). The eight paintings date from between 1949 and 1953, a period when Herrera was living in Paris and responding to the European avant-garde. A highlight work, Field of Combat (1952), will feature in Dickinson’s TEFAF Online New York 2020 presentation.
The collection includes other early paintings by Herrera, among them Venetian Red, White and Black (1949), considered by Herrera as one of her first mature works; and three pieces from the Habana Series, inspired by the artist’s return to her native Cuba over Christmas and New Year 1950-51. Four of the paintings on display were featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2016-17 retrospective exhibition Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight.
Carmen Herrera is resistant to labels based on origin, location, gender or school. Her early training was with artists of the Vanguardia generation in Havana in the 1930s. In 1939 she moved to New York and swiftly made connections in the Downtown art scene: Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith become lifelong friends. In 1948 she moved to Paris, where she engaged with Pre-War European Abstraction, particularly the Bauhaus and Russian Suprematism. Herrera returned to the United States in 1953 and established a studio in Downtown Manhattan in which she is active to this day. In addition to Barnett Newman and Leon Polk Smith, her work has been compared to that of Ellsworth Kelly, her contemporary in Paris; to the abstraction of Constructivist Joaquín Torres Garcia; and to the Neo-Concrete art of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica.
As a European-inflected painter in Abstract Expressionist New York, as a Cuban in America after the Revolution, and as a female painter in a male-dominated milieu, Herrera long struggled to gain attention and inclusion in exhibitions. She had one major show in 1984 at the Alternative Museum in New York, but it has been her more recent shows – including the Whitney Museum retrospective and Carmen Herrera: Structuring Surfaces at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2020-21) – that have brought the now-105-year-old Herrera overdue public recognition. Reflecting on her late-flowering popularity, she noted wryly: ‘If you wait for the bus, it will come. I waited 98 years for the bus to come. Nobody cared what I did…It was a hard thing to get people to accept it. Now they’ve accepted it. That’s okay with me.’
The show will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue featuring an introduction by Dr. Abigail McEwen, Associate Professor of Latin American Art at the University of Maryland. Dickinson will once again collaborate on the exhibition with Axel Clissen of Socle Studio, whose original designs – in both the physical and virtual realms – have contributed to the success of Dickinson’s stands in recent years.