Carmen Herrera sketches by the window of her New York City apartment every morning. She is coming up on her ninety-ninth birthday and is bound to a wheelchair, but she still vibrates with the energy of a much younger woman. At midday most days she treats herself to a scotch. Then she returns to her work. Her canvases are radiant and disciplined, straight lines and shapes in just two colors.
She has been painting since her youth in Cuba, but it was only in the last few years that she found recognition. In the last decade, major institutions from MoMA to Tate Modern have acquired her paintings. London’s The Observer called Carmen the “discovery of the decade,” and her work is now acknowledged as a precursor to many modernist styles—minimalism, geometric and modernist abstraction, and concrete painting. Central to Carmen’s work is a drive for formal simplicity and a striking sense of color.
Although the market ignored her for decades, she was always supported by a steadfast love, her husband of 61 years Jesse Loewenthal. Jesse was an English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, and was described by author Frank McCourt, a colleague, as an old-world scholar in an "elegant, three piece suit, the gold watch chain looping across his waistcoat front." Carmen's only regret is that he didn’t live to see her success.
From architecture studies in Cuba to New York's Art Students League to Le Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris, Carmen's life has spanned continents and art movements, and demonstrates a persistent devotion to her work. She was a pioneer and a peer of many male artists who received great recognition in their time. Her story is just one example of the many great artists whose accomplishments were overlooked because of their gender, ethnicity or nationality. "The 100 Years Show" demonstrates the power of artistic vision to sustain itself.
Learn more: Explore Carmen Herrera's CV; read more about Carmen in The New York Times "At 94, She's the Hot New Thing in Painting"; in her own words in The Guardian: "I became a famous artist at age 94."