Critics’ Picks

View of “Carmen Herrera,” 2011.

View of “Carmen Herrera,” 2011.


Carmen Herrera

Arratia Beer
Potsdamer Str. 87
March 25–April 23, 2011

The Cuban-born, New York–based painter Carmen Herrera famously didn’t sell a work until 2004––when she was almost ninety. But in recent years, critics, curators, and collectors have been making up for lost time. Much has been made of Herrera’s associations with better-known artists: Josef Albers, Jean Arp, and Sonia Delaunay in Paris, for example, and Barnett Newman in New York. But while this is interesting background information, it doesn’t really help viewers to interpret or place her paintings, which, judging from the two canvases in this show, are outstanding––and significant.

Herrera paints abstractions with edges as hard as they come, her rigid lines providing the architecture for shimmering fields of color. In Red Square, 1974, for example, the eponymous quadrilateral seems to bounce ambiguously against the solid white ground. In Wednesday, 1978, two black triangles meet in the painting’s center to create a zigzag, their angles repeated in smaller green shapes at the top and bottom of the work. Both paintings hold the promise of infinite repetition, with potential mise en abyme structures that, though they don’t quite reveal themselves, are locked deep inside the pictures. The rest of the exhibition is made up of drawings on paper. In Untitled, 1971, Herrera proposes a design for a “structure” made of two stacked rectangles, the top one kinking at its center to create a precarious, subtle balance point on the other. The design perfectly encapsulates the delicacy of Herrera’s geometric vision. Though modest in scale, this small, elegant exhibition confirms that Herrera is a very special artist (and probably quite an important one too) and offers proof that late is always better than never.