Siebdruck-Workshop am Immaculate Heart College (Corita ist die vierte von links), Unbekannter Fotograf, Courtesy Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.

Sister Corita, Serious about Social Responsibility, with a Dash of Humor

Sister Corita, the juiciest tomato of all, serigraph, 1964.

Sister Corita, Wide Open, 1964, Serigraph.

Corita Kent, Seed Persons (detail), 1972, original serigraph, 23 x 23", courtesy the Corita Art Center.

 

Museum Ludwig
Bischofsgartenstraße 1
+49/221/221-26165
Cologne
People Like Us,
Prints by Sister Corita from the 1960s
June 9-September 2, 2007

For Sister Corita, there was no big difference between religion and politics, or high art and applied art. The enthusiasm with which she shouldered and demanded political responsibility under the flag of the Catholic Church led to her activities being condemned by the conservative Archdiocese of California. This encouraged her decision to leave the order in 1968.

At the same time, contemporary artists and critics such as Ray and Charles Eames or Buckminster Fuller were great admirers of her innovative silkscreens that anticipated Pop Art and paralleled the work of Andy Warhol. Apart from which, she organized discussions series, festivals and “happenings” that married aesthetics with socio-political issues. Present-day artists such as Ed Ruscha and Mike Kelley continue to reveal the breadth of influence exerted by her view of art.

With its selection of some 40 silkscreen prints and book publications from the 1960s, this exhibition at Museum Ludwig provides an insightful overview of Sister Corita’s work. The exhibition is curated by Julie Ault of New York — an artist, free curator, and from 1979 to 1996 member of Group Material — together with Nina Gülicher from Museum Ludwig Cologne. It has been realized in cooperation with the Evangelical church in the Rhineland.

Corita Kent also known as Sister Corita, gained international fame for her vibrant serigraphs during the 1960s and 1970s. A Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she ran the Art Department at Immaculate Heart College until 1968 when she left the Order and moved to Boston. Corita’s art reflects her spirituality, her commitment to social justice, her hope for peace and her delight in “the world that takes place all around us.”

Concurrent with the German Protestant Kirchentag in Cologne (6-10 June), Museum Ludwig presents the first-ever solo exhibition of Sister Mary Corita Kent (1918-1986) in this country.

The Catholic nun, who lived in the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, took an active political stance on social inequality and the Vietnam War. She adopted the technique of silk screening and made banners for demonstrations and posters. Her images, texts, abstract patterns, and vivid colors produced striking compositions that took society to task — often with an unmistakable streak of humor.

Corita was born Frances Kent in 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She grew up in Los Angeles and joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1936, taking the name Sister Mary Corita.

She graduated from Immaculate Heart College in 1941 and taught grade school in British Columbia. In 1946 she returned to Immaculate Heart College to teach art. In 1951, she received a master’s degree in art history from University of Southern California; it is also the year she exhibited her first silkscreen print. Corita’s earliest works were largely iconographic; known as neo-gothic, they borrowed phrases and depicted images from the Bible.

By the 1960s, she was using popular culture (song lyrics and advertising slogans) as material for her meaning-filled bursts of text and color. Corita’s cries for peace in the era of Vietnam were not always welcome. In 1965 her Peace on Earth Christmas exhibit in IBM’s New York show room was seen as subversive and Corita had to amend it. However her work continued to be an outlet for Corita’s activism — in her words: “I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail. But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art.”

By then Corita was the chair of the Immaculate Heart College Art Department. Buckminster Fuller described his visit to the department as “among the most fundamentally inspiring experiences of my life.” Other influential friends of hers included Charles Eames, Ben Shahn, Harvey Cox and the Berrigan brothers.

August was Corita’s time for her art making. During the three weeks between semesters, she and her students worked around the clock printing new serigraphs by the hundreds. Corita’s chronic insomnia no doubt made some of this possible, but it was often accompanied by a bleak depression. In 1968 Corita decided to devote herself entirely to making art. She left the Order and Los Angeles, and moved to Boston’s Back Bay. She made numerous commissioned works (Westinghouse Group W ads, book covers and murals) and continued to create her own serigraphs (over 400) in the next 18 years. Still using exuberant splashes of color, the tone of her work became more generally spiritual and introspective. Watercolor plein air paintings and great floral silk screens dominated her later works. Corita remained active in social causes and designed posters and billboards for Share, the International Walk for Hunger, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Amnesty International.

On September 18, 1986 Corita lost her battle with cancer and died.

Sister Corita, powerup und Life Magazine aufgebaut am Altar, etwa 1966, Courtesy Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles © 2007, Joshua M. White, jwpictures.com.