Carmen Herrera painting acquired by Cleveland Museum of Art

Recent acquisitions by the Cleveland Museum of Art include a contemporary painting by Carmen Herrera, a groundbreaking artist who worked for decades and achieved fame very late in life; an exceptionally rare Korean knife sheath from the Goryeo dynasty, celebrated as the golden age of sophisticated artistry; two alabaster apostle statues that build on the museum’s strength in medieval art; and a painted Andean drum, an exceedingly rare object in excellent condition from 500–1000.

Carmen Herrera’s Mardi Soir

In its palette and striking formal qualities, Mardi Soir is a quintessential Carmen Herrera painting, with the benefit of being slightly larger than the canvas size she typically used, making the work extremely rare; it is among the most important examples of her historic paintings.

The saturated cobalt-blue hue used in this acrylic on canvas painting is powerful, and typical of the jewel-toned palette that the artist frequently offset with black or white to create rhythmic compositions. The zig-zag pattern of Mardi Soir is indicative of the dynamism of her forms and suggests movement beyond the painting’s edges, reinforced by the fact that the artist painted the edges of the canvas. This detail entices viewers to move back and forth in front of the painting, activating the three-dimensional space that connects viewer to object, and encouraging multiple vantage points. This factor highlights the flat, intersection of planes, and the painting’s strong optical effect. In this way, Herrera dissolved the two-dimensionality of the picture plane by infusing movement into her forms.

Born in Cuba, Herrera began painting abstract works in the 1940s before spending time in Paris, and finally settling in New York in the 1950s, where she honed what would become her trademark minimalist aesthetic. Her signature, angular forms blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s, and she continued working in a similar vein until her death. Herrera’s paintings from this period are the most highly prized by museums and collectors today.

Although a groundbreaking artist who worked for decades, with formal forays remarkably ahead of her male counterparts in the Minimalist and Concrete art movements, Herrera’s work was underappreciated for much of her life. Largely due to her gender, Herrera did not achieve commercial success until she was in her 90s, and her first major museum retrospective occurred at the age of 100.

Given her belated success, few historic paintings by the artist survive. Mardi Soir, however, was saved in the artist’s personal collection until her death at the age of 106 in 2022.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes more than 63,000 artworks and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. The museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship and performing arts and is a leader in digital innovations.

One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation, recognized for its award-winning Open Access program and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the University Circle neighborhood.

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