Cuban artist finally gets proper recognition at age 101

Carmen Herrera

After painting for many decades, Cuban artist Carmen Herrera finally sold her first painting at age 89.

Now, at the age of 101, she has become the toast of New York and the art world with a special exhibit at the Whitney Museum of Art.

“Ya era tiempo. ¡Ay por Dios! Esperaron demasiado”  (It’s about time.  Oh God! They waited too long), said the abstract artist.

Asked about her recent ascent to fame, she said: “es agradable, pero nada del otro mundo” (it’s nice, but it’s not something out of this world).

For many years, New York galleries refused to display her work.

At one point, a gallery owner said to her  “I love your paintings, but I’m not going to display them because you’re a woman.”

Whitney exhibit
Whitney exhibit

So, where were all the feminists and social justice police when this “Hispanic” woman artist was being ignored?

Ah, their usual lair…  in the temple of disdain for the “wrong” kind of minorities.

Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera studied architecture at the University of Havana, married an American, Jesse Loewenthal, and moved to the U.S.

While living in Paris for a few years (1948-1953)  she developed a unique approach to minimalist abstract art.

Carmen Herrera’s mother, Carmela Nieto y Font was a pioneering writer and journalist in Cuba.  Her father, Antonio Herrera y Lopez de la Torre, was a captain in Cuban Army of Liberation, and fought against Spanish rule.

Carmen Herrera’s paternal grandfather and my paternal great-grandfather were brothers, which means that she and I are cousins of some sort.  We are both descended from Tomás Nieto, who moved to Cuba from Spain in 1820.

Small world, indeed…. Carmen Herrera’s mother, Carmela, always gave my brother and me the best Christmas presents.  Of course, the presents were not “really” from her.  ” Santicló ” (Santa Claus) had dropped them at her house for us to pick up.  I have her to thank for my first Monopoly game.  You can read more about her in Waiting for Snow in Havana. chapter 12.

Anyway, the moral of this story is never give up.  Never.

Her paintings now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Her work hangs in museums such as MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and the Whitney in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Hirschhorn in Washington D.C.

Asked if she had a secret for living a long life, she said:  “Nada del otro mundo.” Hacer lo que te gusta, y hacerlo diariamente. Es lo que me pasa a mí. Me levanto, desayuno inmediatamente y me pongo a trabajar.” (Nothing out of this world. Do what you like and do it every day.  That’s what I do.  I wake up, I have breakfast immediately, and I start working right away.”

You can read more about her in Marti Noticias (in Spanish).

The usual suspects are turning her into a “Latina” feminist icon.   See the Huffington Post,  The Guardian, and yes, of course, El Niuyortain (New York Times).








2 thoughts on “Cuban artist finally gets proper recognition at age 101

  1. Alicia Alonso, eat your heart out. This is indeed a remarkable and inspiring story, but the female “Latina” spin is as predictable as it is demeaning. Herrera is an artist, period. The only thing that really matters is the quality of her art. Unfortunately, the usual suspects (and the art world is crawling with them) can’t help themselves, which is to their discredit, not hers. As for her very late stardom not being that big a deal, I expect when you’re 101, nothing much is. Talk about the power of perseverance and believing in yourself.

  2. It may be that it helped her to be overlooked till she was pushing 90. If she were a much younger Cuban exile artist doing the same work in the US now, she might be ignored altogether as not an “authentic” Cuban artist (since to be authentic you have to live and work in Cuba, naturally).

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