Published: August 27, 2015
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — The Harvard Art Museums will host a special exhibition, “Corita Kent and the Language of Pop,” opening September 3, and featuring more than 60 of Kent’s Pop Art screen prints from the 1960s, alongside more than 60 works by her contemporaries (think Warhol, Ruscha, Lichtenstein, Dine, etc). “Corita Kent” replaces Mark Rothko’s “Harvard Murals,” which closed July 26 in the new Special Exhibitions Gallery space at the Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street. Those in the New England area might recognize Kent’s work with the 1971 mural painted on the Boston Gas (now National Grid) tank, a roadside landmark in Boston.
“Corita Kent and the Language of Pop” will be on display to January 3, before traveling to the San Antonio Museum of Art, where it will be on view February 13 to May 8.
The exhibition is 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 (American, 1918–1986) was an activist Roman Catholic nun who 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 “exception” 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 a creative contemporary of Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha and other Pop Art icons. The exhibition also refines the current scholarship on Kent’s art, elevating her role as an artist and a true voice in the artistic and cultural movements of her time.
Kent was a nun, an artist and an educator. 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 from 1964 to 1968, developing many aspects of her signature style while working alongside her students. In 1968, Kent left Immaculate Heart and relocated to Boston.
The screen prints she created during the 1960s are typical examples of Pop Art, embodying the vivid palette, focus on everyday subjects and mass-produced quality of ephemeral objects. “The Language of Pop” examines Kent’s screen prints as well as her films, installations, Happenings and her 1971 mural painted on the Boston Gas (now National Grid) tank, a roadside landmark in Boston.
The exhibition frames Kent’s work within the Pop movement while also considering other prevailing artistic, social and religious movements of the time. In particular, the exhibition explores how Kent’s work both responded to and advanced changes then facing the Catholic Church, brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
“Because of Kent’s status as a nun, her biography has been the focus of most scholarship about her work,” said Dackerman. “However, when you examine her work alongside contemporary Pop artists like Warhol and Ruscha, it becomes clear that she was a critical and relevant voice in the emerging Pop discourse of the 1960s.”
More than 150 prints, along with a selection of films, books, drawings, photographs, sculpture and a textile are included in the exhibition. Rarely shown (and newly restored) films by Thomas Conrad and Baylis Glascock that feature Kent at Immaculate Heart in the 1960s are accessible via interactive screens in the gallery. More than 60 of Kent’s prints, depicting pop culture symbols ranging from food products to road signs, will appear alongside more than 60 works of art by her prominent contemporaries such as Warhol, Ruscha, Lichtenstein, Jim Dine and Robert Indiana.
An accompanying catalog, published by the Harvard Art Museums and distributed by Yale University Press, will be available. For further information, www.harvardartmuseums.org.
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