Life In Between the Lines


Carmen Herrera in City Hall Park

It was only after Carmen Herrera turned 100 that her work began to receive attention of the legacy-securing type––among them a retrospective at a major museum and representation by a large international gallery. In addition to what feels something like justice, with such late-in-life recognition comes the opportunity to finish shelved projects and, in some cases, to improve them. 


One such project is on display in downtown New York and revives an enterprise decades in the making.  In the late 1960s, Herrera––so long focused on hard edged abstract canvases––took the logical step of translating her minimalist paintings into sculpture, though she soon abandoned the project due to financial constraints. More than fifty years later, however, these works are coming to outsized fruition. Step into City Hall Park until November 2019 and you will find five of these sculptures, blown up beyond human scale. 

Though they appear much as you’d imagine, these paintings-turned-sculpture are critically different than their two-dimensional counterparts. Whereas in her painted work negative space acts as a solid (your eyes can easily swap ground and subject) the contrasting shapes of these sculptures are not form, but rather empty space, incorporating what is visible behind them. In a New York City park that backdrop is the backdrop of movement, the constantly changing fabric of street life. What makes Herrera’s work more successful as public art than say, a Tony Smith sculpture, is in its insistence that nature abhors a vacuum––life rushes into the spaces art cannot reach.




Most moving of the five, however, wrestles with life in a different way. Somewhere between the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey and a mausoleum, Pavane is a monument to the artist’s dying brother, standing in a shaded grove of trees. However, our initial sense of the impenetrable, the solidity and finality of death opens upon approaching, as it becomes clear that the monolith is made of multiple fitted pieces, in between which are hairline cracks through which the light can shine. 


What emotion is generally associated with Minimalism, a movement of which Ms. Herrera is tangentially a part, generally tends toward the sublime. At best, Minimalism’s concern with geometry and patterning elevates it into the realm of mathematics––the purity of form with minimal artistic intervention is meant, in some cases at least, to unite the viewer with something close to godliness (after all, what is it that cleanliness (of line) is next to?) 

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However Herrera proves that the impact of minimal geometric form can evoke emotion grounded in earthly concerns. In Pavane, Herrera adheres to Minimalism’s tenets, which defy representation in favor of acknowledging the bounds of the support–– in this case the fitted blocks separated by hairline cracks. But while these fissures do not relieve the impact of this work, they break the impregnable tension, the unbearable heaviness of grief. 

In the empty spaces, life and death co-mingle.

Carmen Herrera: Estructuras Monumentales
City Hall Park
Until November 8

Hall Rockefeller