Changing habits

Loyola's Crown Center Gallery devotes its last show to Sister Corita.

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Sister Corita with her prints, date unknown. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, bread and toast, 1965. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, workpower, air conditioner, 1965. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, the sure one, 1966. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, yellow submarine, 1967. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, in memory of rfk, 1968. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, manflowers, 1969. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Sister Corita, yes #3, 1979. Courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.
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Students in Loyola University professor Nicole Ferentz�s visual communication class created a guerrilla ad campaign (based on Loyola�s own advertising) to protest the closure of the Crown Center Gallery. Courtesy of Nicole Ferentz.
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Students in Loyola University professor Nicole Ferentz�s visual communication class created a guerrilla ad campaign (based on Loyola�s own advertising) to protest the closure of the Crown Center Gallery. Courtesy of Nicole Ferentz.

Sister Corita (1918–86) wasn’t just one of the most politically radical, socially progressive printmakers of the 20th century. She was a Catholic nun—at least, she was until 1968, when Corita (born Frances Kent) left her order, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where she had taught art for more than 20 years.

 

Sister Corita (1918–86) wasn’t just one of the most politically radical, socially progressive printmakers of the 20th century. She was a Catholic nun—at least, she was until 1968, when Corita (born Frances Kent) left her order, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where she had taught art for more than 20 years.

Following Vatican II, which required the clergy to reach out to the communities they served, Corita made serigraphs (color silkscreen prints) calling viewers to faith and political action in the languages of abstract art and advertising. The conservative L.A. archdiocese didn’t approve. Cardinal James Francis McIntyre banned Corita’s 1964 print the juiciest tomato of all—an homage to the Virgin Mary by way of Del Monte.

Through January 4, “Sister Corita: The Joyous Revolutionary” assembles more than 30 of Corita’s prints at Loyola University’s Crown Center Gallery. It’s the final show in the gallery, which Loyola is converting into a conference room, forcing the university’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts (DFPA) to seek exhibition space elsewhere.

Corita’s controversial tomato isn’t on display, but “The Joyous Revolutionary,” curated by Alexandra Carrera, director of the Los Angeles–based Corita Art Center, offers an excellent overview of the workaholic’s 30-year career. The earliest prints date from the early 1950s, after Corita developed modernist leanings but before she embraced abstraction. In at cana of galilee (1952), Corita seats the biblical wedding guests in wire Eames chairs. The show’s last pieces, produced after 1970, reveal that her practice grew more sentimental than edgy as she came to depend on corporate commissions. Corita’s most widely circulated work is the 1985 LOVE stamp with her signature rainbow swash that she created for the U.S. Postal Service, which sold more than 700 million copies.

During the 1960s, however, Corita produced powerful indictments of war, hunger and racism. She combines bold, large-scale letterforms with tiny, hand-written texts from the Bible, rock bands, poets including Walt Whitman and other sources. But she remains best known for turning banal advertising slogans to the Catholic Church’s and the left’s advantage. Taken out of context, Dash detergent’s SOMEBODY HAD TO BREAK THE RULES applies to President Lyndon Johnson’s appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, and SAFEWAY refers to Jesus.

Given that Corita couldn’t have done her best work without the support of Immaculate Heart College’s students and faculty, it’s ironic that this fall the DFPA had to scramble for some place to display the student and professional exhibitions the Crown Center Gallery staged for decades, according to director of fine arts Nicole Ferentz. After Loyola recently relocated the DFPA to the Ralph Arnold Fine Arts Annex and Mundelein Center, the administration offered the department a gallery in the Fine Arts Annex, but it’s closed to the public and “tiny,” Ferentz says—just big enough to hold work by two or three artists rather than the 30 who might participate in a senior show. Ferentz’s visual communication students protested the gallery’s closure, creating a guerrilla ad campaign, one that Corita presumably would have approved.

At press time, DFPA chair Sarah Gabel hoped Loyola administrators would approve a proposal to transform a Mundelein Center lounge into a second, larger gallery with proper lighting and movable walls, and to allow student employees to ensure special public access to the Fine Arts Annex gallery as much as possible. Since no new campus gallery can be completed by spring, the DFPA will hold its 2010 senior show at Rogers Park’s Greenleaf Art Center, Gabel tells us. Ferentz believes the gallery fell into limbo because “the whole role of the arts on the campus has never really been taken that seriously,” she laments. We hope “The Joyous Revolutionary” shows how much potential’s wasted by that indifference.

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