This 101-Year-Old Cuban-Born Painter Is Getting a Taste of Art Stardom With First Museum Retrospective

Lead Photo: smallcurio from Austin, TX [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
smallcurio from Austin, TX [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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Plenty of artists don’t get their due recognition until after they’ve died. Some are just too far ahead of their time, others simply can’t surmount barriers of gender, race, or ethnicity. In the case of Cuban-born painter Carmen Herrera, her late recognition could probably be chocked up to a little bit of both.

But luckily for Herrera, she was actually alive and well when her work suddenly and unexpectedly stormed the art world 89 years after her birth. And now, still going strong at 101, she will live to see her first museum retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art entitled Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight.

Herrera was born in Havana to the founder of a local newspaper and briefly studied architecture at the University of Havana before leaving school to marry an American teacher named Jesse Loewenthal. Throughout the 40s and 50s, Herrera spent time in Paris and New York where she pursued her love of painting and hobnobbed with some of the world’s most illustrious artists.

But despite her influential network and occasional exhibitions at prestigious galleries, Herrera’s brand of minimalist abstraction just wasn’t in vogue in the postwar New York art scene. While Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock were painting bold, intricate works, Herrera was paring down her aesthetic to its simplest expression: focusing on straight lines, triangles, and minimal color schemes.

Carmen Herrera’s work on display at the Lisson Gallery
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Over six decades, Herrera was perfectly happy painting for her own amusement and never so much as sold a painting. But when a close friend recommended her for a last-minute slot at a group exhibition back in 2004, the art world was floored to see that her work predated some of the most celebrated practitioners of minimalist abstraction.

Almost instantaneously, Herrera’s paintings were snatched up by some the country’s most renowned collectors of Latin American art, followed by solo shows and exhibitions at the world’s most prestigious galleries and museums. In only a few years, her works were selling for $30-40,000 price tags and featured in the permanent collections at MoMA and the Tate Modern.

Now, with Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, the Whitney will explore several periods in the painter’s artistic development, and formalize her status as an modernist master. The show runs from September 16, 2016 – January 2, 2017.