Carmen Herrera mural painted by students makes its East Harlem debut

Carmen Herrera mural painted by students makes its East Harlem debut

Last week, a blue tarp was pulled down outside of an East Harlem school to unveil a 54-foot-wide and 17-foot-tall mural by Carmen Herrera. Visible from FDR Drive, the massive black-and-white creation was designed by the 105-year-old artist and completed by students from the arts and education nonprofit Publicolor.

"Uno Dos Tres," Carmen Herrera. Photo courtesy: The Lisson Gallery.
“Uno Dos Tres,” Carmen Herrera. Photo courtesy: The Lisson Gallery.

The outdoor mural, titled “Uno Dos Tres,” is installed in the parking lot of Manhattan East Academy for Arts and Academics, a middle school located at the site of JHS 99 on East 99th Street. Retaining the same exacting geometry, the work is based on the Cuban-born artist’s painting “Diagonal” (1987).

“I am proud to offer this image to Spanish Harlem and particularly proud that students, so many of them Spanish speaking like me, will be creating this,” Herrera said about the project earlier this year in a statement.

The original vision was to complete the mural in time for the artist’s birthday this past May. But like many projects across the city, the COVID-19 health crisis diverted this timeline.

Carmen Herrera. Photo courtesy: The Lisson Gallery.
Carmen Herrera. Photo courtesy: The Lisson Gallery.

“I did not hesitate to embrace this project once I was told that students themselves would be engaged in its creation,” Herrara stated. “It is so important that they experience art and work with art as part of their earliest education. There has to be more art in public schools, especially in those from the neediest parts of the city.”

Publicolor participants ages 13 to 18 worked with students from the school to create the mural, presented as part of the nonprofit’s continuum program, which aims to support at-risk students through immersive project-based learning.

“This project with Carmen Herrera will bring the power of visual beauty through art to an underserved community,” Ruth Shuman, founder of Publicolor, said.

The outdoor mural marks the second collaboration between Herrera and Publicolor, which installed a mural based on her work “Untitled” (1952) at M.S. 244 in the Bronx in 2017.

Of the partnership, Shuman said that “it’s so fantastic that our students are having the experience of working with an artist like Carmen who is a role model for so many, especially our young women.”

Carmen Herrera's geometric sculptures © Carmen Herrera. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery.
Carmen Herrera’s geometric sculptures © Carmen Herrera. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery.

The mural isn’t the first time Herrera’s eye-catching works have landed in the public sphere. In 2019, the Public Art Fund presented an outdoor installation, titled “Estructuras Monumentales,” of monochromatic aluminum sculptures, conceived from sketches first cast onto paper by the artist in the 1960s.

After a stint in Manhattan’s City Hall Park, the bold structures traveled to Houston, where they were installed in Buffalo Bayou Park this October. The pieces will be on view through April 23, 2021, offering yet another opportunity for fans of the artist to see her work out in the open.

Top Image: Carmen Herrera. Photo courtesy: The Lisson Gallery.