Corita Kent

1918, Fort Dodge-1986, Boston


In 1962, Sister Mary Corita Kent, a nun at the Convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, went to the Ferus Gallery to see the famous show where Andy Warhol adopted silkscreen printing with his Campbell’s Soup series. “Sister Corita”, as she was known, took holy orders at the age of 18, but she was no novice when it came to art, and the silkscreen was already her favorite medium. She took classes at the Otis College of Art and Design, and at the Chouinard Art Institute, and had a Master in art history from the University of Southern California. She then became a professor at the Immaculate Heart College. Yet that moment would be a decisive one, and promote her as the woman who would become the “Pop Art Nun”. As an artist, woman, teacher and nun, Corita could not be pigeonholed. Her silkscreen works showed a celebratory approach to consumer society, running counter to Pop art champions like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Richard Hamilton, in whose work the flaws of materialism appear in a colder light. 1962 was also the year when Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, ushering in a great movement of openness espoused by the Church with regard to contemporary culture. In that context of emancipation, Corita appropriated the language of advertising and let color and words enjoy an explosion of freedom. Slogans, lyrics, biblical verses and authors’ quotations were all freely committed to paper in an engaged re-contextualization, indissociable from her faith, conveying values of tolerance as well as resistance to inequalities.
Covering the period from 1963 to 1967, the works brought together at Passerelle art centre illustrate this optimism, and her radical approach to art teaching and a growing openness towards activism. Under the word “TENDER”, the Virgin Mary is, for example, described as laughing at “this riot of sound and colour”. Corita also organized parades for the Mary’s Day celebrations on her campus, where works produced with students were brandished like signs. She encouraged them to go to supermarkets and garages, and to be in contact with local communities. Corita’s commitment to social justice grew as she met friends like Daniel Berrigan, the priest, poet and pacifist militant to whom she referred in her work POWER UP (1965). As a Christian anarchist, D.Berrigan became one of the ten most wanted fugitives on the FBI’s list in 1968, for his involvement in the anti-Vietnam war movements, while Corita left holy orders that same year, under pressure from the archdiocese, shocked by a 1964 work using a slogan for tomato sauce celebrating the Virgin Mary as “the juiciest of all”.
In 1968 and 1969, as is shown by the works on view at the Musée des beaux-arts, her shift to the secular world was marked by the inclusion of photographic motifs, the use of fluorescent inks dear to the psychedelic movement, and by straightforward references to “disobedient” figures such as the anti-slavery philosopher Henry David Thoreau, and her friend Joseph Pintauro, former priest, writer and poet, and gay to boot. She quotes E.E. Cummings: “Damn everything except the circus!”.

En coproduction avec /co-produced by Passerelle centre d’art contemporain

christy, 1969

Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes

« Je suis la grosse dame
Je suis l’homme fort
Je suis le sultan mangeur de feu
Je lance une tente par-dessus des prairies gelées
en novembre pour attraper le soleil avant qu’il ne s’engouffre
sous le monde à l’intérieur de moi
mon peuple vole à moitié nu au-dessous
de ciels peints et des éléphants peints
dans les profondeurs dansent sous des co
cotiers, en attendant dans les coulisses
des danseuses roses éventent
leurs visages roses avec de la dentelle tirée
à travers leurs bagues en faux diamant, je
suis le dompteur
de lions le dompteur
de broncos le garçon criant
hot-dog dans les gradins je suis
l’acrobate sur ses mains
je suis tout
des clowns en pleurs aux rois tirés de canons
je suis le cirque à trois pistes
gloire
à la grosse
dame l’homme fort le sultan mangeur de feu
ainsi que cela était
à l’origine est désormais
et sera à jamais
un cirque trois
pistes pour toujours jusqu’à la fin des temps hourra.
Joseph Pintauro »

Serigraph

Courtesy du Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles, CA


M however measured, 1968

Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes

« Si un homme ne marche point au pas de ses compagnons, c’est peut-être qu’il entend un tambour différent. Qu’il puisse s’accorder au rythme de la musique qu’il entend, peu importe sa mesure ou sa distance.
Thoreau

ROUTE DIRECTE VERS LE HAMEAU DU CONTENTEMENT. Enjambe l’échalier de l’Abnégation, de là sur le chemin de la Modération, au-delà de la colline de la Bienveillance, le long du ruisseau de la Pureté et en descente jusqu’au vallon de la Gentillesse, et juste au-delà du rocher de la Résignation on aperçoit le hameau. Voyageur ! En avant, et que Dieu te bénisse ! »

Serigraph

Courtesy Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles, CA


U u are a tiger, 1968

Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes

« Rien que de penser au mot « cirque » suffit à faire déferler une horde
de désirs trop longtemps emprisonnés. S’armant de beauté, exigeant
la justice et nous menaçant à chaque instant de curiosité et de printemps
et d’enfance, cette foule de souhaits oubliés commence à prendre d’assaut
la prétendue forteresse imprenable de notre présent.
e.e. »

Serigraph

Courtesy of Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles, CA