American artist Corita Kent juxtaposed spiritual, pop cultural, literary, and political writings alongside symbols of consumer culture and modern life in order to create bold images and prints during the 1960s. Also known as Sister Mary Corita, Kent is often seen as a curiosity or an anomaly in the pop art movement. Corita Kent and the Language of Pop positions Kent and her work within the pop art idiom, showing how she is an innovative contemporary of Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, and other pop art icons. The exhibition examines Kent’s screenprints as well as her 1971 bold “rainbow swash” design for the Boston Gas (now National Grid) tank located alongside I-93 south of downtown Boston, claiming it as the city’s own pop art monument. More than 60 of Kent’s prints appear alongside about the same number of works by her prominent contemporaries, along with a selection of films, books, and other works.
The exhibition also expands the current scholarship on Kent’s art, elevating the role of her artwork by identifying its place in the artistic and cultural movements of her time. In particular, the exhibition explores how Kent’s work both responded to and advanced the concerns of Vatican II, a movement to modernize the Catholic Church and make it more relevant to contemporary society. The church advocated, among other changes to traditional liturgy, conducting the Mass in English. Kent, like her pop art contemporaries, simultaneously turned to vernacular texts for inclusion in her prints, drawing from such colloquial sources as product slogans, street signs, and Beatles lyrics.
Kent (1918–1986) was a Roman Catholic nun, artist, and teacher. From 1936 to 1968 she lived, studied, and taught at the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, and she headed the art department at the college there from 1964 to 1968. In 1968, Kent left Immaculate Heart and relocated to Boston, where she lived until her death in 1986.
The exhibition catalogue, published by the Harvard Art Museums and distributed by Yale University Press, offers nearly 90 illustrated entries and four essays by distinguished scholars and fills a gap in the scholarship about Kent’s work.
The exhibition travels to the San Antonio Museum of Art (February 13 through May 8, 2016) after its time in Cambridge.
Organized by the Harvard Art Museums and curated by Susan Dackerman, the former Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints at the Harvard Art Museums (2005–2014) and current consultative curator of prints.
Corita Kent and the Language of Pop has been made possible by support from Barbara Ketcham Wheaton and the late Robert Bradford Wheaton, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Jeanne and Geoff Champion, John Stuart Gordon, Marjorie B. and Martin Cohn, Ellen von Seggern and Jan Paul Richter, the Rosenblatt Fund for Post-War American Art, the Anthony and Celeste Meier Exhibitions Fund, and the Harvard Art Museums Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and major corporate support from National Grid.
Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.
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Information about events, including the opening celebration, lectures, gallery talks, a poetry walk, and workshops, can be found in our calendar.
The museums’ self-guided Art + Science digital tool includes information about the Straus Center’s recent study of Kent’s works on Pellon, an acrylic nonwoven material developed by the garment industry. A video detailing the conservation treatment of her silkscreen, come off it (1966), is included.
The museums’ self-guided StoryCorps and Corita Kent digital tool collects five edited segments from recorded conversations about Kent and our exhibition Corita Kent and the Language of Pop. The project is a partnership between StoryCorps, the Harvard Art Museums, and National Grid.
An exhibition exploring Kent’s teaching, artistic process, career, and activism, Corita Kent: Footnotes and Headlines, is on display August 24 through December 4, 2015, at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.