R(ad)ical Love: Sister Mary Corita
Mar 08 2012
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) presents R(ad)ical Love: Sister Mary Corita, featuring 65 never-before-exhibited serigraphs created between 1963 and 1967 by nun, artist and social activist Sister Mary Corita (later Corita Kent, 1918-1986). The ad-inspired, eye-popping prints demonstrate the bold graphic language she developed to communicate her vision of peace and love in the 1960s. On view March 9, 2012 through July 15, 2012.
The exhibition showcases Corita’s unique brand of pop art that synthesized the spiritual with the commonplace. Incorporating designs from print ads, street signs, billboards and product packaging, she adapted mainstream advertisements and transformed them into positive messages of love and social righteousness.
Sister Mary Corita was professor of art at the Immaculate Heart College (IHC) in Los Angeles where she taught for more than 20 years and headed the art department for the last four. Since the 1950s, IHC was known for its progressive attitudes and innovative art department. The college’s liberal practices took on a new life in 1962 with the second Vatican’s call for renewal that sought to modernize religious teachings. This shift in the Church brought rise to the “modern nun,” exemplified by the life and work of Sister Mary Corita and her religious community.
Often in collaboration with her colleagues and students, Corita infused her works with universal themes of goodness. The prints exhibited reflect and respond to the cultural protests of the time and reveal her growing concern over racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War. An avid follower of pop culture, she layered her prints with song lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney as well as poems and essays by Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gertrude Stein, Walt Whitman, and others.
Corita witnessed the proliferation of commercial advertisements that blanketed Los Angeles in the 1960s. This phenomenon provided her with the materials and subjects needed to create her artwork. She approached new projects by retrieving words and/or images from commercial culture that took on greater meaning when put in another context. In a 1966 print, she features the text “Come Alive; Tomorrow, the stars.” Her slogan refers to the 1960s Pepsi Ad that encourages consumers to “Come Alive, You’re in the Pepsi Generation.” Unlike its commercial counterpart, Corita’s phrase suggests an infusion of the Holy Spirit or an awakening social consciousness.
Corita’s fascination with word play dominates the majority of her prints. In the 1964 print for eleanor the big “G” of the General Mills’ logo is enlarged. The print was titled after her student at IHC who helped her mix inks and clean silk screens. The ‘G’ in for eleanor does not stand for goodness as defined by tastiness and nutritional value, but a deeper, more essential goodness exhibited by her student. Through adapting recognizable text into profound sentiments about the human condition, her prints underscore the mutability of words in modern culture.
Sister Mary Corita left her order in 1968 and was thereafter known as Corita Kent. She relocated to Boston where she continued to make art. In 1985, the U.S. Postal Service released her design for the “Love Stamp” becoming their most popular issue. The unveiling of the stamp was presented at Burbank Studios, CA that had previously hosted filming of The Love Boat. In an act of defiance, Corita declined to attend the event taking issue with the alignment of her work with the syrupy romantic love represented in the popular television series. According to exhibition curator Kathryn A. Wat, “She had always defined love as profoundly selfless, patient, and enduring, and she saw its practice as the only path through life’s challenges and mysteries.”
Upon her death in 1986, a collection of her prints in her possession passed to Sulpician Father Robert Giguere, a friend from her days at IHC. This exhibition is drawn from the collection that Giguere maintained until his death in 2003. The collection has since become part of the artistic holdings of the Society of St. Sulpice, Province of the United States.
National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA)
Founded in 1981 and opened in 1987, NMWA is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 4,000 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists; including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker, and Nan Goldin along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware and botanical prints. NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit www.nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA Members and youth 18 and under.