It took seven decades before anyone clocked that the Havana-born, New York-based artist was worthy of recognition – now she’s about to open a retrospective at the Whitney
2016’s art world is a place where bright young things can be plucked from Instagram and plunged into a stratosphere of exhibitions, brand commissions, and press before they’ve hit their teen years. But at 101-years-old, painter Carmen Herrera doesn’t need Instagram to be considered one of New York’s rising art stars.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1915, Herrera moved to Paris in the 1930s before returning to Cuba to study architecture. Settling in New York in 1954 after meeting her American-born husband on a visit to the US, it would take seven decades for Herrera to earn recognition for her art. But in three days she’ll open her retrospective at the Whitney, just months after a show at the city’s Lisson Gallery.
Although choosing obscurity over the public eye, her time in the art world itself is nothing new and her work has been known in smaller circles since she first began exhibiting in 1949. Yet, it wasn’t until 2004 – at 89 – that she sold her first painting, and had her first show in the city she’d called home for decades.
“I never in my life had any idea of money and I thought fame was a very vulgar thing. So I just worked and waited” – Carmen Herrera
Now, even while using a wheelchair, Herrera’s work measures 5ft wide and she continues to sketch and paint by the window of her city apartment each morning. Increasingly, an international spotlight is being shone on her and last year the documentary short The 100 Years Show was released onto the film circuit offering more perspective on her life and talent.
But even as the "oldest contemporary artist working today”, for Herrera, it’s never been about being famous, telling the New York Times in 2009, “I do it because I have to do it; it’s a compulsion that also gives me pleasure. I never in my life had any idea of money and I thought fame was a very vulgar thing. So I just worked and waited. And at the end of my life, I’m getting a lot of recognition, to my amazement and my pleasure, actually.”
Opening this Friday at the Whitney Museum, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight will focus on her work during 1948 – 1978, a period where she honed her signature style, combining abstract expressionism with minimalism. With a lot of works never-before-seen in a museum, the retrospective with begin with her time in Paris and journey through to her eventual migration to New York, split into three sections.
Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight opens 16 September – 2 January 2017 at the Whitney Museum