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Works of ’60s Pop Art sensation Sister Corita Kent showcased at the Tang

Saturday, February 16, 2013
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The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery opened “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent” on Jan. 19. This serigraph, "E eye love" is 22 by 23 inches and was created in 1968.
The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery opened “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent” on Jan. 19. This serigraph, "E eye love" is 22 by 23 inches and was created in 1968.

— “Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries.”

If you survived the 1960s, you know Sister Corita Kent. She was a Pop Art sensation. On posters and murals, Kent’s exuberant and colorful messages of love and peace were embraced by a generation wrestling with social upheaval and an unpopular war.

In 1967, the Los Angeles nun, artist and teacher appeared on the cover of Newsweek. She was quizzed by TV personalities; great minds of the day like Alfred Hitchcock, John Cage and Buckminster Fuller befriended her. She was a “joyous revolutionary,” said artist Ben Shahn.

‘Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent’

WHERE: Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: Through July 28. Open from 12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and until 9 p.m. on Thursday

HOW MUCH: $5 for adults, $3 for age 12 and over, $2 for seniors, free for children under 12

RELATED EVENTS: “Corita Kent and the ’60s” panel discussion, 5:30 p.m. March 21; Corita Art Party, 7 p.m. March 21; silkscreening workshop, all ages, reservations required, 2-4:30 p.m. March 23; curator’s tour, 12 p.m. March 26

MORE INFO: tang.skidmore.edu or 580-8080

“Some of the nuns didn’t like it,” says Ian Berry, director of the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. “She liked it because she was getting the word out. Her faith never wavered.”

Career retrospective

For the next five months, visitors to the Tang will be inspired by Kent’s many talents as a spiritual messenger, a tireless educator and a ground-breaking printmaker.

In the exhibit “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent,” co-curated by Berry and Michael Duncan, an art critic and independent curator, you’ll see 250 prints that Kent created from the 1950s to 1986, the year she died at age 67. After its Tang debut, the exhibit travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and then to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

“There have been many Corita art exhibits, but none that have shown her earliest and latest works,” says Berry.

Berry and Duncan interviewed nuns and ex-nuns, former students and artists who knew her, and dug deep into the archives of the Corita Art Center in Los Angeles.

“Her story is so amazing,” says Berry.

“Someday” begins with prints from the 1950s, when Kent, a nun in the Roman Catholic order of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was in her 30s and teaching at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.

While the subjects of these images are strictly Catholic, and she is new at printmaking, Kent is already experimenting.

“In typography and graphic design, she was way ahead of her time,” says Berry.

In the next section, the 1960s, her work explodes into Pop Art’s bold colors and text.

“The big G stands for God,” proclaims one print, borrowing a General Mills slogan. “Wonderbread” shouts another.

“She was turning commercial advertising into representations of her spirit,” says Berry.

Finding images

Kent discovered many of her designs right across the street from the college, at a Market Basket grocery store. She would take her students there, and show them how to use a “finder,” a piece of paper with a square hole in it, to focus on graphic elements in the world around them.

In a glass exhibit case, we see her photos of food ads and logos, images that became part of her designs.

“She could pass her hands over the commonest of the everyday, the superficial, the oh-so-ordinary and make it a vehicle of the luminous, the only and the hope-filled,” said Harvey Cox, a theologian who was her friend.

On one wall, which Berry calls “his favorite,” hang the silk-screens, or more accurately, serigraphs, in which she cleverly plays with words.

“She was a knockout avant-garde artist. She’d make words go backward and forward,” Berry says.

Kent would crumple paper bearing slogans, logos and other text, which distorted the words, then take pictures of them and use those designs. It was like using Photoshop on a computer before that concept could even be imagined.

Voices in art

As we pass into the 1970s, more and more serigraphs, emblazoned with quotes from her favorite thinkers and social activists — Samuel Beckett, Daniel Berrigan, Albert Camus, e e cummings, John Lennon and Gertrude Stein — jump at us from the walls.

In the 1980s, she designed the Love Stamp for the U.S. Postal Service, but it’s also a dark time for her, as she deals with the cancer that eventually kills her.

In the last part of her life, she lived in Boston, and at the Tang one wall is covered with small watercolor-on-paper paintings she made during trips to the ocean.

“These have never been shown,” says Berry.

In this final section, we actually see Kent in action as a teacher, in her nun’s habit, and as a celebrity, sans habit, talking about her work, on a video that plays continuously.

“She’s such a good teacher. That’s another reason why I wanted to have a show here,” says Berry.

Skidmore students are also the reason for the exhibit’s long run, into the summer, when there will be silk-screening workshops at the Tang.

“We’re going to get students to do her assignments,” Berry says.

 
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