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Pop Artist Sister Corita Kent: Display of Affection

Pop artist Sister Corita Kent: Display of affection
‘Love is here to stay’ exhibit at USD showcases screen prints
By Marcia Manna | 6 p.m., Feb. 25, 2016

One of Sister Corita Kent’s biggest successes was her smallest work of art.

Her ink and watercolor design, six swashes of color, decorated the 1985 “Love” stamp for the U.S. Postal Service, which sold more than 700 million of them.

Kent’s vibrant screen prints can be seen in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Whitney Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Though she hasn’t gained the commercial success of her pop art contemporaries Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, critically acclaimed shows here and abroad indicate a renewed interest in her work.

The University of San Diego will present “love is here to stay (and that’s enough): Prints by Sister Corita Kent” through May 13 in Founders Hall.

“Corita has been rediscovered,” said Jeffrey Burns, co-curator and director of USD’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture.

“We found her work to be an expression of the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, with this incredible optimism and hope and joy.”

In 1936, Francis Elizabeth Kent joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, straight out of high school. Known as Sister Mary Corita Kent, she earned a master’s degree in art history and became a charismatic teacher who also created hundreds of serigraphs inspired by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and other topics of the era. Kent was a demanding but supportive instructor who encouraged her students to alter their visual perspective by using a piece of cardboard with a window cut out in the middle to view everything from the local carwash to cracks in the sidewalk.

On March 10, Burns will moderate a gallery talk that includes some of Kent’s former students. Additional gallery talks are scheduled for April 7 and May 3. The discussions and the exhibit’s catalog explain some of Kent’s artistic ideas.

She favored lowercase text and printed on inexpensive Pellon, a material used between the facing and outer fabric of a garment. And rather than assuming the ironic attitudes of the 1960s pop movement (think Campbell’s soup cans and cartoon characters), Kent’s energetic combinations of color, popular advertising slogans, biblical passages and newsworthy photographs urge us toward social responsibility and spiritual enlightenment.

The Second Vatican Council also had an impact on religious life during the 1960s, by updating liturgy so that it was “reformulated in contemporary terms.” However, James Francis McIntyre, the conservative archbishop of Los Angeles who ruled Kent’s order at the time, resisted reform and the free thinking that is integral to an artist’s creativity. In 1967, Kent appeared on the cover of Newsweek with the title “The Nun: Going Modern.” The following year, Kent left the order and moved to Boston, where she continued creating art until her death in 1986 at the age of 67.

The exhibit showcases more than 50 serigraphs, including archival materials that have never been exhibited publicly before and two unexpected finds titled “the holy” (1961) and “a bird” (1962).

Last year in January, a benefactor contacted Burns about a box of art that had been stored in a garage for nearly three decades. Meanwhile, plans for the Corita exhibit were already in process.

When Burns examined the art, he had an “Antiques Roadshow” moment.

“I had no idea what was in it,” Burns said. “It was only when I cleaned off the glass that was caked over with dirt that I thought, ‘Oh my gosh — Corita!’ The university had to do some conservation; it’s a miracle that it survived.”

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Founders Hall 102
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-7516
kpowers@sandiego.edu

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