Category Archives: Hammer Museum

Breaking the Rules

If You Want Peace, Corita Kent, 1976, created for the Campaign for Human Development

If You Want Peace, Corita Kent, 1976, created for the Campaign for Human Development

Pop art, 1960s social activism, screen printing, Los Angeles art scene, Catholic nun….one of these nouns seems incongruous, doesn’t it?

Thanks to the book Forgotten Women: The Artists by Zing Tsjeng, I learned of  (Sister Mary) Corita Kent. This short video is an introduction to this intriguing personality (1918 – 1986.)

The more I read about her, the more fascinated I become.  After high school, Francis Elizabeth Kent entered the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles and took the name Sister Mary Corita.  She studied at the (now) California Institute of the Arts and the University of Southern California. From 1947 to 1968 she taught classes, and headed the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.  

 Imagine being one of her students in an art department that became part of the L.A. art scene. Her classroom ‘rules’ are inspiring, aren’t they?  I’m especially drawn to Rules 6 and  9.  Along with Rule 4, I may have found my personal Rules for Life.

Sister Corita’s Art Department rules, lettered by D. Meckleburg, Corita.org

Corita Kent and the more famous pop artist  Andy Warhol were producing art in the 1960s. Both grew up in devout Catholic families.  Corita saw a show of his work in 1962, shortly after she had begun working  with serigraphs.

that they may have life, Corita Kent, 1965

that they may have life, Corita Kent, 196

 

Brillo Box, Andy Warhol, 1964

Brillo Box, Andy Warhol, 1964

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coca-Cola (3), Andy Warhol, 1962

Coca-Cola (3), Andy Warhol, 1962

 

for eleanor, Corita Kent, 1964

for eleanor, Corita Kent, 1964

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kent chose to work mainly in silkscreen printing (serigraph), which is accessible and affordable.  She created almost 800 different designs.  The work is included in many, many museums and galleries.  The Hammer Museum has extensive resources, including a vast digital archive of her work. The Corita Art Center preserves and promotes her works, and mission.  You may want to check out their Corita 101 art videos based on her book Learning by Heart:  Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

She, too,  became a popular figure in America culture:  she was featured on the cover of Newsweek in 1967.  She designed the US Post Office Love stamp in 1985, of which more than 700 million were sold.

‘Love’ stamp, Sister Corita, US Post Office, 1985

Do we call this pop art timeless?  It seems we are still, unfortunately, struggling with the same issues that Kent and Warhol explored. By using popular culture images, in simple, engaging designs, they  expressed their beliefs.  In different ways,  they were challenging  the status quo, and society’s continuing obsession with celebrity, material goods  and consumption – at the expense of peace and justice for all.

It’s a message worthy of re-consideration.  Rule # 10 gives us the impetus and permission to make the necessary changes to create a more equitable world for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! Who made that?

You know you’ve found something special, when the same artist takes you by surprise on different occasions.  I remember the first time I saw Lee Bontecou’s work at MoMA.  I stood in the middle of the gallery, looking up, gobsmacked.  I said to one of my art friends, Look at that!  Who is it?

Without a moment’s hesitation S. said, That’s Lee Bontecou.  Isn’t she great?

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

I was only slightly, and fleetingly, embarrassed that I wasn’t familiar with this artist, and her work.   Lee Bontecou was born in 1931 in Rhode Island, U.S.A.  She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1957; in 1966 she won the first prize from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.  There have been major solo retrospectives of her work in the last twenty years, including  at MoMA / MCA Chicago / Hammer Museum in 2003/4. In 2014 the Menil Collection in Houston had a exhibition of her drawings.

Last October (2019), at the newly renovated MoMa, I came around a gallery corner and encountered  this:

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Bear in mind this sculpture is about 5 feet wide by 5 feet high and protrudes from the wall.  It is an arresting presence that stopped me, and demanded my attention.  The darkness of the central void, the somber palette, and the varying depths and shapes encompassed in the piece make it extremely powerful.

I had to check the label, as neither my friends (S. and J.) nor I recognized the work. I was pleased to read Lee Bontecou.  This sculpture cemented my admiration for Ms Bontecou’s work.  The label explained that it is constructed of old conveyer belts that the artist salvaged from a laundry below her East Village apartment.  The curators suggest that the piece expresses anxiety, as it was created when the U.S.A. entered the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall construction began, and the American tensions with Cuba were at fever pitch.

Here is a short video from MoMA highlighting Bontecou’s piece within the show Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction. (You can skip ahead to the 4 minute mark to hear specifically about this sculpture.)

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

The details are exquisite, don’t you think?  The copper stitching appears fine and delicate, yet it holds together the muscular, voluminous forms.

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Bontecou said, My concern is to build things that express our relation to this country…..to other worlds to glimpse some of the fear, hope, ugliness, beauty, and mystery that exists in us all and hangs over all the young people today.

It’s not surprising that the work is strong – it expresses much of the human condition.  Despite being 60 years old, it is still relevant today.