“Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction” at MOMA

The MOMA in NYC is presenting an exhibition of work from their permanent collection, featuring abstract work produced by women between 1945-1968. Although abstraction was an important genre of art during this time period, the work created by women has been underappreciated. There is a wide range of art on display from gestural expressive paintings and drawings to the more geometric and calculated.

Běla Kolářová – “Five by four” – 1967

Běla Kolářová – “Five by four” – 1967 (detail)

For this assemblage “Five by Four”, Běla Kolářová used metal paper fasteners to count out the grid patterns that make up each of the 20 rectangles. These rectangles are then arranged in 4 columns, 5 rectangles high. The use of the paper fasteners (something found in any home or office) as a mark making vehicle adds extra personal element to the work.

Carmen Herrera – “Untitled” – 1952

This large scale canvas by Carmen Herrera features two isosceles triangles with their bases along the top of the painting. Using the tension of black and white vertical parallel stripes, Herrera has defined the shapes by swapping the colors at the sides of the triangles. This technique has created an visual energy along these lines that allows the triangles to pulsate. The geometry of this painting is so strong, you feel like you are being pushed back to view from a distance.
Susan Happersett
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Carmen Herrera at the Whitney

The Whitney Museum is currently presenting “Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight”. This outstanding exhibition examines work from 1948-1978. Born in Cuba and educated in Havana, New York and Paris, Herrera developed a distinctive hard-edge geometric style. This is a large show and would require more than one blog post to discuss in fill. I have decided to limit this post to paintings Herrera created in NY after she returned from studying in Paris (1952-1965).

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“Black and White”, 1962
Picture courtesy of the Whitney Museum

“Black and White” from 1962 is an excellent example from this time period. The shape of the actual canvas is an important element in the architecture of the work. By rotating the square there are no horizontal or vertical lines, this immediately disrupts the visual experience. Herrera limited her color pallet to two colors creating a dynamic tension of positive and negative space. In this work the thicker white strips are the same width as the thicker black strips but in the gallery there is an optical illusion where the white seems wider. The alternating of black and white parallel lines on the isosceles right triangles creates an order-2 rotational symmetry.

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“Horizontal”, 1965
Picture courtesy of the Whitney Museum

“Horizontal” from 1965 also features two colors and a square. This painting again relies on the shape of the canvas to define its structure, but in this case a circular format. The thin horizontal wedges amplify the push and pull of the red and blue triangles and circle segments, formed by the edge of the canvas (arc) and the sides of the squares (chords).

“Lines of Sight” is a long overdue solo museum exhibition for Carmen Herrera It is a welcome opportunity to appreciate the artist’s exciting use of geometry.

Susan Happersett