Mimi Herbert (b. 1936) is an American painter and sculptor who gained prominence among Washington Color School artists in the 1970s with her striking experimentations with minimalist geometric shapes and bold color. Over the decades, Herbert has reinvented her style, form and medium in ever-changing ways, securing her place in American art history as a pioneering woman sculptor.
In the summer of 2022, Mimi Herbert’s sculpture Red Triplet (1974) was re-installed in the stunning new Atrium in the National Gallery of Art. The sculpture stands out in the airy space with monumental works by Roy Lichtenstein, Jean Dubuffet, and Hans Hoffman. Previously installed in the Minimalism gallery, it was surrounded by Anne Truitt, Sol Le Witt, Frank Stella, and David Novros. At the direction of Harry Cooper, the sculpture was moved to its current, more prominent site. The Corcoran Gallery of Art received the work in 1974, and upon closing its doors, the NGA chose the piece for its permanent collection.
Born in Brooklyn in 1936 to immigrant parents, Herbertʼs family settled in Arlington, VA. She developed a love of drawing and theater at Syracuse University. Post-graduation Herbert studied Indian art and language and eventually worked with bronze while living in the USA, India and then Pakistan. As bronze became harder to obtain, Herbert shifted her medium to Uvex, a pliable clear plastic that she could shape and vacuum form.
Herbert began to work with acrylic sheets in the 1970s, and they continue to be her primary medium. Her complex sculptures are formed by heating sheets of acrylic to a precise temperature, then quickly twisting and folding them before they cool and solidify in thirty to forty seconds. As with Red Triplet, the simplicity in color and subject shifts the focus to the positive and negative space of the soft, airy folds and fluid form.
In the mid-70’s, moved by her experiences of war and uncertainty abroad, Herbert turned her focus to the flag. With the U.S. Bicentennial approaching, Herbert felt a surge of patriotism and created her first folded flag sculptures, exhibited in a solo show at Henri Gallery in 1975. This led to a commission by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, resulting in a 165-foot-long American flag pennant that spanned the 17th Street façade of the museum.
Herbert’s Washington exhibition history includes a solo feature at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
In 1990, Herbert moved to Indonesia and discovered the Wayang Golek theater. Captivated by the art, she began to draw puppets, interview master puppeteers and then published, Voices of the Puppet Masters: The Wayang Golek Theater of Indonesia.
In recent years, Herbert began experimenting with vibrant solid colors, culminating in her work, Awakening, completed nearly 50 years after Red Triplet. The works are folded, stacked, and twisted into glossy, rounded forms. The contrast of the soft forms within the hard medium foster a tactile, playful tension for the viewer. Today, at 85, Herbert continues to experiment with new and unexpected techniques and exciting color choices.
Herbert’s work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT; the Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection, Bloomfield Hills Michigan, the American University Museum, Washington DC, and in private collections in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia and El Salvador. She has lived and worked in the USA, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Brazil, El Salvador, Haiti and New Zealand.