Herrera’s life is divided between Cuba and New York, but it was in Paris that her work took its most decisive turn. In dialogue with older avant-garde artists like Piet Mondrian as well as artists of her own generation, like Ellsworth Kelly, whose work took a similar turn in Paris, Herrera developed a visual language of hard edges, limited colors, and simple geometric shapes. Her breakthrough moment arrived via three black-and-white paintings—including Untitled—with which she announced her dedication to the stark abstraction that would become her lifelong calling. Afterward, she said, “I never met a straight line I did not like.”
Gallery label from "Collection 1940s—1970s", 2019
To make this work, Herrera painted vertical bands of black and white at varying lengths and with diagonal breaks that create a two-tone zigzag pattern. She extended her pattern to the face and sides of the frame, giving the object a sense of dynamic totality. "I began a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn't essential," she explained. Although active in Paris and New York from the late 1940s on, she did not sell a painting until 2004, at the age of eighty-nine. She has recalled that one dealer bluntly told her, "You can paint circles around the male artists that I have, but I'm not going to give you a show because you're a woman."
Gallery label from Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, April 19 - August 13, 2017.