Art in Tribeca: Carmen Herrera at City Hall Park

With *maybe* the exception of the Julian Opie’s grazing sheep in 2005, I don’t think we have ever had such a moving and beautiful installation of art in a local park. And it is a milestone as well: the first major exhibition of outdoor sculptures by New York-based artist Carmen Herrera, who, at 104, is considered by art historians to be “the missing link in global modernism,” in the words of curator Daniel S. Palmer from the Public Art Fund. You should not miss this. The work is so well sited, and brings out the best in the park and the neighborhood.

Herrera came to New York from Cuba via Paris in the 1950s and has lived in the same apartment on East 19th Street ever since. She still draws and paints every day, working with an assistant. She’s sharp and very present, says Palmer, who delivered the renderings to her studio for approval. She does not have her own family, but relies on a few close friends who have also become advocates for her work.

She was born in 1915 (saving you the math) but didn’t sell her first painting until the ‘80s, long after she had dedicated her life to art. “She kept making it and really believed in the work,” says Palmer. “It’s an argument for intrinsic motivation and not waiting for external approval.” Amen.

Herrera studied architecture in Havana in the 1930s, and it was from that training that she developed the drawings for sculptures that would bring her drawings to life – extend them off the wall. Those drawings sat in a drawer until they were discovered by her gallerists. Two currently in the park were made by the Lisson Gallery in Chelsea for collectors – “Angulo Rojo” and “Pavanne”; the other three were fabricated by the gallery for this installation and are being seen for the first time here. “Carmen’s work seems like it was destined to be there,” says Palmer.

Herrera has yet to see it herself – she’s waiting for the heat to die down. But this was, Palmer said, about helping an artist achieve her dream project. Lucky for us.

Carmen Herrera: Estructuras Monumentales
Public Art Fund
City Hall Park
On view until Nov. 8