Cuban-born artist Carmen Herrera is one of those cases where the art world becomes inebriated of its own political correctness to the point that it ends up convincing itself and the critics of its own lies. A solo show by the 101 year old artist has just opened at the Whitney Museum (‘Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight’) which is not a retrospective in spite of the strategically-placed, confusing documentary film ‘The 100 Years Show, Starring Carmen Herrera’. The show, of course, coincides with an exhibition of ‘recent paintings at the Lisson Gallery in Chelsea and, as Karen Rosenberg states it for The New York Times: ‘numerous profiles hailing Ms.Herrera as a living treasure and praising her acerbic wit’. Making money out of the pensioner.
But why is she a living treasure? In fact, she was ‘discovered’ by Nicholas Logsdail at a mid brow Latinamerican fair in London (PINTA) less than 10 years ago and since then her sales have boomed as ‘the-latest-discovery/buy one-before-she-dies-because-her-prices-are-going-to-soar’ new thing. The key of her success lies on one hand on her visual association with Barnett Newman (of whom she was a lover) and Sol Lewitt and, on the other hand, the narrative built around the dealer Rose Fried telling her that ‘you can paint circles around the male artists that I have, but I’m not going to give you a show because you are a woman’.
Firstly married to Wilfredo Lam and later in a relationship to Barnett Newman, Herrera seemed to absorb the visual language of her men wating for the time where the lack of significant works from that generation open the opportunity for her to shine. The difference between her work and Newman’s is that the latter makes the objectual aspects of the canvas collapse into its totemic aspects as it has just been amazingly shown at the Abstract Expressionists Show at the Royal Academy in London. Herrera’s pieces are, however, pointless and that pointlessness can easily be confused with wit if seen from the point of view of her life narrative which is what her gallery has been exploiting. In other words, since her large paintings could not have been possibly produced by her at 100 years of age, a team of assistants manufactures them with industrial precision while the gallery plays with the idea of the artist’s age and fragility. To give you and idea, in the past 10 years, she might have produced around 1000 pieces. Is this art?
Of course, in New York, the land of political correction everybody seems to have fallen for it. The aforementioned NYT review puts the blame on the Whitney not only for having taken so long to give her a solo show but also for not giving her just a lateral show and not a major fifth floor retrospective. Rosemberg never tells us why she is so amazing. The closest that she gets to bring some light into it is by deploying another political correct commentary for Herrera seemed to have a complicated relationship with Latinamerican Art, in general. Well, maybe because she has never lived there. ‘She has been compared to Braizilian artists of the Neo-Concrete movement such as Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica, but she had little direction contact with those circles; the lines of influence run through 1940s Paris, and the international gathering of abstract art enthusiast known as the Salon de Realites Nouvelles’. It must be said that his late husband Wilfredo Lam was the one participating in those Parisian circles and at that time her style was, of course, surrealist. Rosenberg tries to link her to Malevich, Mondrian and De Stijl but there is nothing in her work coming from there. Hers is a mishmash of Barnet Newmanesque motifs without its modernism. J A T