Creating work without knowing why is something that I have done time and time again. I take a piece off the loom and wonder: why was this made? Pieces sit in my home, in my studio, travel with me from one city to the next. Throughout time I have vacillated in my practice between work that is functional, and a desire to make things that have absolutely no use value whatsoever. With the nonfunctional work I ask myself: if I am not exhibiting this, what am I doing?
It is always a welcome respite to this self-inflicted agony to encounter artists who have been making their work their entire lives without much recognition. It's a reminder that making requires absolutely no external response. Creative process is somewhat of an alchemy. Color, light, form, sound, time, space - you work with these elements to attain a result that otherwise would not have been brought to life. Sometimes the result is something to celebrate, and sometimes you think it a failure, but the end result is primarily a conversation between these elements and the self. Then it can open up to others who show any interest in your pursuit.
Carmen Herrera, a Cuban-born American abstract artist, whose first in-depth exhibit is taking place now at the Whitney museum, is 101 years old. For seven decades she has been exploring abstraction alongside many household names such as celebrated abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly. Yet her identity as both female and immigrant did not prove advantageous when it came to reception of her work here in the United States. In spite of tepid response from an art world that did not place value on her oeuvre, her career has spanned two continents and she has diligently explored her ideas every day for 70+ years. Clearly, if she was asking herself my aforementioned query "why create?", her answer came about in the form of an unabated inquiry of line and color.
I visited her work at the Whitney on a blustery day in late October - arriving just around 4pm when the wind came up strong and the rain began. I barely made it into the museum without losing my umbrella, and I was pummeled by a sign that flew into me, my ankle becoming the most recent victim of a climate out of balance. So, I viewed Carmen Herrera's show limping around with an ice pack lodged into my sock. It felt like somewhat of a metaphor for the impediments that Carmen had in the eyes of an unequal art world, the dual identity of being immigrant, and female, two constructed barriers to recognition that followed her most of her life. While my encumbrance was physical, and inspired by a wonky climate, hers was the simple fact of being an artist in a time and place where women were not considered as such. In a brilliant short film directed by Alison Klayman, "The 100 Year Show" (currently available on Netflix), someone asks Herrera how it feels to have her work shown at the Whitney. Her response: "It's about time". Sure is. We're grateful to have it, as it is work that definitely lends itself to inspire many a tapestry weaving...
The exhibit grouped her work by location: Havana, Paris and New York.