Saturday, December 10, 2016

Pop Art nun show in Australia: Sr Corita's spirit of the 60s

True Pop sensibilitySr Corita Kent had catholic tastes. 

Long before sampling went mainstream, the Californian nun's 1960s poster graphics co-opted the catchy slogans of the era, as an exhibition of her work in Melbourne demonstrates.

At a time when Buddhist monks were self-immolating to protest the Vietnam war, Sr Corita was staging her own graphic dissent against war, civil rights abuses, and inequality with the bright, hard-edge colours of advertising, together with the poetry of popular music.

By incorporating such everyday details as news headlines and traffic signs, she felt that "preaching … the gospel might be carried out more effectively."

Her pop sensibilities were emboldened by Vatican II (1962-65). Among the many changes Pope John XXIII implemented to modernise the Church and make it more relevant to contemporary society, perhaps most emblematic was changing the Mass from Latin to vernacular language.

If Sr Corita was on a mission from God, the title of a new exhibition, Summer of Love, suggests she also tapped into 1960s psychedelia – most clearly in her vivid colours and trippy, warped type – and the key issues of peace, love, and protest during this revolutionary decade. She spread the word, literally and metaphorically.

"Her work is text and subtext," says curator Simon Rees, who assembled 85 posters for the show at the Ian Potter Museum of Art.

A Man You Can Lean On, for instance, lifts a slogan from a Klopman Mills ad and runs it over the title of Pete Seeger's Turn Turn Turn whose lyrics, in turn, are taken from Ecclesiastes. 

In other posters, texts by Albert Camus and Hannah Arendt appear in Sr Corita's own handwriting, emphasising a deep personal commitment.

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