Critic's Choice

The Nun Who Went Pop: Looking at the Exuberant Art of Sister Corita Kent

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The Nun Who Went Pop: Looking at the Exuberant Art of Sister Corita Kent
A detail of a photograph of Kent teaching with LIFE magazine, photographed by Mary Anne Karia (née Mikulka), c. 1965. Courtesy of Mary Anne Karia (née Mikulka).

The Pope may be visiting New York next week, but the art faithful should also be excited about the arrival of Corita Kent—also known as Sister Mary Corita—at the Harvard Art Museums. “Corita Kent and the Languge of Pop” (which runs through January 3 before traveling to the San Antonio Museum of Art) explores the Pop art of the Roman Catholic nun, artist, and activist (1918-1986), who participated in various antiwar and civil rights demonstrations and whose bold text-based screenprints of the 1960s merged religious and secular affirmations with corporate slogans and snippets of political rhetoric.

These jubilant exhortations have been seen at New York galleries, including a show at Zach Feuer in 2009, but are starting to attract more institutional attention; in addition to the Harvard show, there’s a retrospective, “Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent,” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through November 1.

The renewed appreciation for Kent is part of a larger curatorial expansion of Pop art. Long seen as the province of American, male artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg, Pop is now being extended to lesser-known female artists including Marisol and Marjorie Strider and to other corners of the globe. (“The World Goes Pop” has just opened at Tate Modern, and the similarly themed touring exhibition “International Pop” is coming to the Dallas Art Museum in mid-October.)

Harvard’s show pointedly contextualizes Kent’s art with works by Warhol, Ed Ruscha, and Robert Indiana, among others, suggesting that we ought to appreciate her riotous colors, abundant signage, and clever wordplay as we do her activism and devotion.

See highlights from the show below:

 

tomatoCorita Kent, the juiciest tomato of all, 1964. Screenprint. Collection of Jason Simon, New York, TL41302. © Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

give the gangCorita Kent, (give the gang) the clue is in the signs, 1966 and (our best)reality proves very little, 1966. Screenprints. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund, 2008.157, 2008.158. © Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

eleanorCorita Kent, for eleanor, 1964. Screenprint. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund, 2008.143. © Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

 

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