Corita Kent Day inspires participants to "think, act, and love": Corita Art Day encouraged

Posted by Gabrielle Gignoux-Wolfsohn

"She was driven by poetic, liberally-minded humanism," Michael Duncan, a Los Angeles Curator said of artist Corita Kent during a panel discussion dedicated to her at the Tang Museum last Thursday, March 21. The discussion was part of "Corita Art Day," a day devoted to Kent's activism, artwork, and life. The day was in conjunction with an exhibition of her work currently on display at the Tang.

Throughout the panel discussion, which featured three scholars of her life and work, the audience got a sense for how unique Corita's artwork and her teaching styles were. Each of the panelists offered a different expertise: Michael Duncan focused on the distinction of her work from others; Cynthia Burlingham, director of the Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts, discussed Kent's unorthodox teaching style; and Sasha Carrerra, who is the director of the Corita Kent Center, offered quotes and accounts from people who knew Kent personally.

Kent, once known as Sister Mary Corita, was a nun at the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles. She worked exclusively in the medium of screen-printing for many years, but her style changed greatly over time. She began by printing scenes with religious figures but, after the Catholic Church deemed the artwork to be offensive, she began to more subtly incorporate her religious messages into her artwork. She then turned her focus to advertisements, manipulating ad images and printing scripture within the lettering. As Michael Duncan described it, she was "tweaking the sanctity and power of advertising."

Kent continued to extend her alternative vision in the way she taught when she was made head of the Art Department at the Immaculate Heart College. She stressed to her students that they were experimenting, not making art, and that it was the process that mattered, not the product. Students recall her assigning impossible tasks such as to read all of the books in the library or create five hundred drawings in a short amount of time, or-during a three-hour class-draw three inches of a student's forearm. When students objected to the latter assignment, Kent would slyly respond, "you can choose any part of your forearm." After leaving the order in 1968, Kent moved to Boston to work exclusively on her artwork until her death in 1986.

Following the panel discussion, we watched a video of Kent leading a lecture and exercise that was devoted to bringing strangers out of their social comfort zone. After, we were instructed to look under our seat, where we found a small paper bag containing the objects that those in the video had just been using: colorful tissue paper, a plastic glove, a confetti popper, and a poem. We placed the tissue paper around the head of a stranger, blew up our plastic gloves and read the poem to them holding the glove to their ear. After this exercise, we put our poppers in the air and pulled the string. A sense of intimacy, fun and love filled the room-a fitting tribute to Kent's art. 

Outside the Payne room, the Tang was filled with screen-printing stations with Corita's stencils, old magazines, glue and scissors for collaging. Mary Leigh Roohan played music to accompany the activities. Someday Is Now, containing over two hundred of Corita's pieces, invites us to observe, think, act and love. The exhibit will be in the Tang until July 28, 2013.

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