Carmen Herrera • The Sights of Silence • Miami Herald

By ELISA TURNER • November 6, 2005 

Her infatuation with squares and such came with a high price: silence. Today, at 93, Cuban-born abstract painter Carmen Herrera has a career that stretches back to late 1940s Paris, but today she's virtually unknown except to a rarefied group of art world cognoscenti that include the curatorial staff at El Museo del Barrio and New York Times critics. 

For all the attention that Latin American artists have enjoyed in the past 15 years or so, with the flowering of Fridamania and significant shows like the watershed exhibit Latin American Artists of the 20th Century in 1993 at New York's Museum of Modern Art, mention Carmen Herrera's name to many reasonably well-informed folks and you'll be met with silence. 

Herrera did not make it into the MOMA show. ''I went to New York and saw her work about 10 months ago and I couldn't understand why someone of this caliber wasn't better known,'' says Miami Art Central director Rina Carvajal, who curated what's billed as Herrera's first major retrospective, The Forms of Silence: Carmen Herrera Abstract Works, 1948-1987, now at MAC. 

Since the late 1990s, Herrera has exhibited sporadically at a handful of galleries and venues in New York, Toronto, Paris and Havana. In 1998, her black-and-white paintings were favorably reviewed at New York's El Museo del Barrio. 

The artist's vibrantly ordered abstract geometric paintings were also included in Outside Cuba, the 1987 exhibit that traveled to Miami after opening at the Jane Vorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, and in the 1988 Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970 that opened at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. 

But since then, there's been almost a virtual silence, something Carvajal hopes will change with the MAC exhibit. The MAC director said, she has recently fielded inquiries about Herrera from London's Tate Gallery, England's prime showcase for contemporary art. 

Carvajal, who joined MAC in July 2004 as its executive director and chief curator, sees this show as part of a larger effort. ''Our mission,'' she says of MAC, is to do international art from everywhere, but being in Miami it's also time to do Latin American artists that need acknowledgement.'' 

The second part of that mission dovetails with Carvajal's career, which includes positions as a curatorial fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and a three-year stint as adjunct curator for the 1998 Sao Paulo Bienal. 

''I have fought a lot for Latin American artists [to be shown in] a much larger scope in international art,'' she says. For the catalog of the 1993 landmark MOMA show, she wrote an essay about Venezuelan painter Armando Reverón, considered an early 20th century advocate of the spare forms of Modernism. But even with that important 1993 exhibit, she says that "there were stereotypes still, even though you could see the richness of these artists. There was an expectation of what Latin American artists could paint. They had to be colorful, they had to be figurative.'' 

In an 11-minute documentary about Herrera's life and career that MAC prepared in the artist's downtown New York loft and neighborhood in August, a white-haired, arthritic, but gamely persistent and quietly eloquent Herrera talks about making art in the post-war years when stereotypical expectations about Latin American artists were especially dominant. The documentary begins as the artist, who has lived in New York since 1952, recalls being visited years ago by a prominent art dealer who gave the artist this blunt message: I can't represent you because you are a woman and you are Latin American. 

This unnamed art dealer nevertheless admitted, Herrera recalls, "'You are a wonderful painter. You can paint circles around the artists I have in this gallery.' '' 

Surprisingly enough, in the documentary Herrera does not come across as bitter. She actually says that she welcomed the years of ensuing silence, because she always wanted ''absolute silence, absolute quiet'' while painting, and her art does project a cool, meditative state that's far from the emotional, gestural blizzard of dripped paint in works by Jackson Pollock or in the Pop Art cleverness of Andy Warhol, two of the many mostly male artists who reaped noisy success in New York while she quietly painted away. 

Her paintings at MAC invite comparisons to the geometrically shaped, boldly colored canvases of Ellsworth Kelly and to the high-contrast, vibrating style of Op Art. Her 1998 exhibit of the geometrical, optically charged black-and-white paintings, like Verticals and Untitled (both of 1952) at El Museo del Barrio was an education to many. Art historian Juan Martinez, who teaches at Florida International University, admits that he first learned of her work from that show back in 1998. In the closing reception for this exhibit on Nov. 13, he will discuss abstraction in Cuban art in the middle years of the 20th century. In researching his book Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950 (University Press of Florida, $45), he says he found no mention of Herrera among the many catalogs and gallery announcements he reviewed. 
Born in Havana in 1915, Herrera was trained at the school of architecture at the University of Havana. The angular joints and open spaces of architecture are clearly a part of her vision of abstraction, which quietly contrasts a sense of space that moves forward with one that recedes, but she also cites the painter and pioneering Modernist Amelia Peláez as an important influence.

From 1949 to 1952, she lived and worked in Paris -- curiously during the same period that Kelly was in Paris. Annually she showed in Paris in the Salon des Réalitiés Nouvelles, considered the most important venue for reintroducing abstract art to an audience badly shaken by the horrors of World War II. 

Paris was the busy place where, she says in the MAC documentary, ''I found my way in painting.'' There she encountered a book about luminous squares in the abstract painting of Josef Albers, the German-born artist who was one of the first of the influential Bauhaus artists to emigrate to the United States in the wake of the Nazis. After the squares of Paris and Albers, there was the silence of New York. 

The show begins with Herrera's more crowded and hectic (at least by her standards) paintings of the late '40s and early '50s, presumably produced while she was in Paris. These are slightly off-balance compositions in mostly bright colors, in which elongated triangles spear circular forms that could be riffs on Peláez's signature bowls of fruit. The works often flirt with the appearance of symmetry but actually give asymmetry a dynamic and destabilizing charge. 

Paintings produced during her New York years are cleaner, sharper, and more spare. Spare and geometric abstract art can quickly turn arid, if formal relationships of line, space, and color are not precisely modulated, and not every work here creates a lasting visual charge. Her paintings look deceptively simple and quick to digest, such as the 1974 Untitled, in which two slightly irregular rectangular shapes stand side by side, but you see that their position in space -- which one is moving forward and which one is receding -- is not at all clear. This ambiguity gives the painting its subtle strength, leaving simmering questions. 

Herrera's paintings resist an easy summation. In her 1956 Untitled (Blue with White Stripe) a slightly-bent line charges horizontally just above the center of a blue field, slicing the painting halfway in an off-kilter fashion. Contemplate these quietly off-balance paintings at your own risk -- but whatever you do, contemplate them.

Santiago Picatoste • Naturaleza en Persona • IN PALMA

Por IVAN TERRASA • October 4, 2005 

Capas de información y pintura hasta llegar a un orden en el que la Naturaleza del hombre y su obra se hermanan bajo la batuta de Brahms. 

Billete del caos al equilibrio perfecto. Este es el viaje que emprende cada tarde Santiago Picatoste (Palma, 19-IX-1971) desde su estudio en la calle Colón de Madrid hacia las galerías y colecciones más importantes de media Europa. En el Estudio Rojo del Centro Cultural de Andratx, donde ha trabajado este verano, Picatoste abre su mundo de flores baudelerianas al Universo en el que cada mañana se siente otra vez nacer. 

Desde hace tres años vives en Madrid. ¿De qué modo ha influido cambiar de ciudad en tu trabajo? 
Lo fundamental ha sido la llegada del color a mi obra. Mallorca, donde llevaba treinta años, se me había hecho muy cómoda. Al salir he roto el huevo. Madrid es hostil, hay otra vibración en sus esquinas. Eso puede nutrir o destruir la obra. En mi caso, la nutre. 

¿Qué papel crees que juegas en el actual negocio del arte? 
Sé que el arte es un negocio y que hay negocio en el arte, pero eso no me interesa demasiado. A mí lo que me importa es que mi obra vaya saliendo del estudio. 

Cuando nos conocimos en Madrid, hace tres años, dijiste que el artista bohemio de la calle había muerto. ¿Qué tipo de artista eres tú? 
Estoy a caballo entre la pasión por los grabados de Goya y los dibujos de Picasso, y la adoración por el dripping de Pollock, o Motherwell. Pero sobre todo me veo como una persona del siglo veintiuno, como un artista dinámico. 

Que ya ha alcanzado su voz propia, una voz “picatostiana”… 
Ese ícono es fruto de la coherencia en la línea de trabajo acompañada del ansia por seguir evolucionando. Es como tener el cimiento de la casa y cambiar constantemente la decoración. Dinamismo y, sobre todo, contraste, algo fundamental en mi obra: contraste de matices, texturas, opacidades, luz. “No importa lo que hagas, sino como lo representes”, a partir de ahí he podido entender muchas formas de interpretar la plástica. Mis cuadros son la constante metamorfosis de mi propia naturaleza, que concibo como a un personaje. 

¿Cómo es la relación con tu galerista, Xavier Fiol? 
Tenemos una gran compenetración y la suerte de ser amigos. Trabajo cómodo con él porque sé que va a apreciar lo que le muestro. Para mí eso es fundamental. Además me está moviendo por ferias y galerías muy importantes de España y Europa, algo que le agradezco mucho. 

¿Te inquieta llegar a acomodarte con tu obra? 
Dejar Mallorca, moverme, me ha venido bien. Planeo iniciar pronto una aventura en Nueva York porque sé que le sentará muy bien a mi pintura. Me veo en Manhattan creando obras muy impactantes. 

¿Dónde sientes que estás hoy? 
Me siento en comunión directa con mi obra, existe un pasillo directo en el que ella está en un extremo y yo en el otro, una especie de feedback sin muebles de por medio, por el que podemos pasear y hablar los dos sin ningún obstáculo. 

¿Sin sentir soledad? 
Pintar es para mí como desayunar, me da igual que haya una o veinte personas. Prefiero que nadie me vea porque no me interesa que la gente sepa cómo pinto. Eso sí: necesito escuchar música. Sólo cuando estoy apunto de terminar el cuadro, o pongo música clásica o quito la música. 

¿Y cuándo sabes que el cuadro está terminado? 
No lo sé, sólo sé cuándo está apunto de terminar. Entonces mi cabeza necesita estar dos días sin que nadie me moleste, y lo acabo en una hora. Me pongo a Verdi o a Brahms, me separo del lienzo a una distancia apropiada, me imagino como un visitante más en un museo. Y ahí es cuando el cuadro me revela todo lo que ha pasado: qué le sobra, qué le falta, por dónde va.

Carmen Herrera • Five Decades of Painting • Art in Review

By GRACE GLUECK • July 15, 2005

Using only two and sometimes three hues at a time (they might be black and white), in strictly geometric juxtapositions, the abstractionist Carmen Herrera produces minimal but eloquent paintings whose strength comes from their intense fusions of color and ascetic form. She may run a blocky diagonal zag of brilliant yellow down a dense black surface, like ''Saturday'' (1978). Or, as she does in ''Green and Orange'' (1958), set up a dazzling figure-ground relationship between balanced triangles, one bright orange, one bright green, each with extended trapezoidal blades that slice into the other's field. 

Born in Cuba in 1915, but living in New York since 1939, with time out in the 50's for a sojourn in Paris, Ms. Herrera belongs to the second generation of Cuban artists with roots in Modernism, and the first to hatch and hold onto a pure abstract style. Color is the essence of her work, but not at the expense of a rigorous geometric order. In canvases cued by the Suprematism of Malevich and Lissitzky, Ms. Herrera plays up the austerity of a shape or a field with shock tones, like the bright orange trapezoid that hugs the left side of ''Red and White'' (1978), inflecting a negative ground of white space. Or the two bright orange triangles of ''Sunday'' (1978) that kiss as they meet in the composition's center, separating two black triangles, one above, one below their joining. 

Every so often in her career, Ms. Herrera has turned to black and white, the subject of her 1998 show at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem. In her hands these paintings are as vibrant as those in color. The deceptively simple ''Yesterday'' (1987), a jaunty white zigzag across a field of black that reads like a joining of two incomplete triangles, is a case in point. More in the Op-Art style of eye foolery is ''Black and White'' (1952), a diamond composed of four triangles joined at their tops -- two striped in white on black, two in black on white -- that appears as both a flat and a three-dimensional figure. 

Over a long career Ms. Herrera has accomplished a rare feat: she has managed to imbue her ascetic, normally impersonal mode of art with emotion and spirit.

Angela Freiberger • Body Extentions • Focus • Scupture Magazine


Brazilian artist Angela Freiberger creates sculptures that celebrate past and present, tradition and contemporaneity. Using marble from Italy and Portugal, she sculpts “receptacles” or “recipients” as she calls them in her native Portuguese. Her urinals, wash-basns, bathtubs, vessels, and bowls are reminiscent of Greek and Roman funerary vessels. In their treatment, they are smooth and uniform, with little oxidation, nearly pure.

The contemporary side of Freiberger’s work begins with the atmosphere surronding its making, a marble factory where builders and stonecutters, not artists, prepare and cut the stones. Using traditional sculpting techniques, she blends machines with the detailed precision and smoothness of her work and mixing a worker’s mood with what she ses as a female sensibility. This sensibility is extended to her vessels, which are “receptacles” for her own body.

Freiberger began to make these objects in the earl 1990s, and her immediate concern was to create lightness in marble by substituting negative space for positive sculptural matter.

As her interaction with the work developed, she emphasized the relation between sculpture and performance, using her own body as a mold. Her vessels, plates, washtubs, and bowls were all taken from casts of her body-her back, stomach, and head for instance. Other works, made as replicas of utilitarian objects such as bathtubs, bidets, or urinal, contain signature marks of the artist’s hands, fingers, or toes imprinted on the stone.

By mixing ancient and contemporary processes and ideas, she follows what has long been seen a signature of Brazilian art-adapting foreign influences to local conditions, redefining sources into an international art par excellence. Masculine archetypes such as over rationality, excessive organization, and symmetry-a Constructivist influence rooted in Brazilian art since the late 1950s-are replaced with feminine archetypes such as smoothness and roundness, though still sustaining cohesiveness and attention to detail.


Since the interactive works of Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark (1960s), Brazilian sculpture has been connected to the body of the viewer or to that of the artist. In Freiberger’s case, a connection to the body’s performance is implicit, even when the piece stands alone in the gallery. In her work, both the process and the finished piece are shaped by anachronistic historical influences leading to a synthesized finished object. Sh reverses the process of much Brazilian art, which begins with a clear framework and ends in organized chaos.

Freiberger’s vessels link sculpture, architecture, and performance. Her connection with architectural space begins with her awareness of the viewer. Although the sculptures are extensions of the body, they appear frozen in space. There is an ambiguity between stillness (which usually suggest a balanced weight, a gravitational point of axis) and lightness (movement). The performing body here is not necessarily moving: more often it is frozen like a snapshot, a positive element to the negative forms of the receptacles.

In the Carrara marble pieces Woman Washing her Soul, Woman Carrying the Place of her Head, Woman Carrying The Place of Her Fingers, and Man Ray’s Violin (all 1999), Freiberger connects sculpture and performance. Photography here serves a purely documentary roles, though it questions the very reason of the performance, its source of action and immediacy, making us wonder whether the stillness in the snapshot actually takes away the performance’s most vital significance-its subjective interaction with the viewer. It is possible that the need or photo documentation determined the nature of the performance, with the stillness in the performer’s body a way to simplify reception both for lens and the viewer.

Lavabo da Alma (1999) is a large washbowl created an inverted form or spirals engraved inside that reference the earthworks of Robert Smithson. According to Freiberger, the relationship to Smithson suggests the female body as ultimately connected to nature, a concept that still prevails to nature in Latin American culture.

For instance, in the works of Ana Mendieta, the artist’s body becomes an extension of waterfalls, grass, mud, and other natural materials. In this way, the female body symbolizes life and death. Similarly in Freiberger’s work, the physical condition of the marble, its purity or higher level of oxidation, leading to fragmentation or sedimentation, reveals a constant negotiation between opposing natural forces.

The installation Bath House (2001) consists of a bathtub, a bidet, and a large bowl for washing woman the feet. While the bathing woman has provided subject matter for many artists, from Degas to Picasso, in Freiberger’s work, the presence of the woman is transitory. In her absence there is death, violence, loneliness, and abuse. This relationship between life and death is underscored by the placement of marble vessels and other ritualistic objects in large rooms to emphasize a sense of emptiness and abandonment after the brief appearances of a performing body. Performances such as Sora (1998), in which the artist bathes with I.V. drops of cranberry juice, suggest the ambiguous relationship between pleasure and pain.

Collection of Urinals (2001), an installation shown at Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Cultural Oduvaldo Vianna Filho in 2002, featured marble urinals inspired by a scene in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, 1963). Freiberger re-creates the bathroom set, filled with Roman-style urinals, next to a monitor, where the movie clip is replayed. In the scene, the Prince of Salina, played by Burt Lancaster, senses death approaching and seeks refuge in the bathroom of his mansion during a ball celebrating the engagement of his aristocrat nephew and the nouveaux riche daughter of a merchant. In the gallery, the viewer replays the part of Salina by entering through the door.

Freiberger’s performance O Banquete (The Banquet, 2002) was also inspired by film. Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973) and Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie (1972) treat the act of eating a subversion of moralistic rules. In Freiberger’s performance, a model dressed in a voile apron kneels on a large table, as if she were a dish, surrounded by large marble plates and peaches. Spectators around the table participate by “eating with their eyes.” After 20 minutes, the performer stands up, picks up the peaches, and offers them to the viewers. The sensuous game of hunting and being hunted with the eyes, of desiring and being desired, is also the game of the arts. The spectator eats without possessing, whether the goal is an art object or a woman’s body.