The Catholic University of America

Nov. 19, 2012

Art Student Curates Colorful Corita Exhibit

  Corita Exhibit group photo

Emma Marty (center) with (from left) Alison Lipari and Nora Heimann of the art department, and Joan Stahl and Stephen Connaghan of the library.

The signature rainbow palette of the works of Catholic artist Corita Kent (1918-1986) enlivens the May Gallery of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library through Friday, Dec. 14. Senior art history major Emma Marty curated the exhibit, which opened last month, with a personal touch.

At one time a religious sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Kent was a relative of Marty, and letters, photos, and works of art from the family’s personal collection color the exhibit.

“Ever since a young age, before I could even articulate why, I have always loved her artwork and been interested in her career,” Marty said. “It has in some ways been a dream to curate an exhibition on her work.”

The opening of To Believe – The Spirited Art of Corita coincided with the closing days of another exhibit sponsored by the Department of Art, Celebrating Vatican II – A Spirited Response in Art and Design, which opened in September in Salve Regina Hall and closed on Oct. 31. The exhibits help to celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

“Both shows work in dialogue,” said Nora Heimann, associate professor and chair of the art department. “Together, they celebrate artists’ creative struggle to enhance and support the Roman Catholic Church’s initiative for renewal in an age of change.”

“Being a curator is an acquired skill that is a great gift to have,” Heimann said. “When our students step up to curate a show they know there is a strong network of support behind them.

The Department of Art provided resources and support for Marty’s exhibit, and Heimann along with Willy Malarcher (M.F.A. 1957), curator of the Vatican II exhibit, guided Marty through the curatorial process.

Malarcher had met Kent during his time as an art student at CUA.

“He gave me a lot of information on Vatican II and highlighted more of the theological points in her work than maybe I had seen before,” Marty said. “Having someone who has this vivid memory of the person gave me that extra push.”

Kent’s influence was visible in many of the works included in Malarcher’s Vatican II exhibition, particularly those by other CUA alumni who were inspired by her work during the years following Vatican II, Marty said.

Display Case of Corita Kent Artwork  
A display case of artwork by Corita Kent in the May Gallery of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library.  

Kent’s artwork features bright swatches of color, frequent incorporation of words or quotes, and religious and humanitarian themes. Like many of her contemporary pop artists, she enjoyed working with contemporary and commercial images, such as the Wonder Bread logo, a motif found in several of the works and backdrops on display in the exhibit.

Other artifacts include a copy of a Newsweek magazine with Kent on the cover from 1967, the rainbow “Love” stamp she designed in 1985, and several of the books she illustrated.

Photos in the case at the entrance to the gallery are from the Marty family’s personal collection. They show Kent working at the family’s summer house in Ogunquit, Maine – Marty’s own childhood summer home and “her favorite place in the world.” Kent did much of her artwork there after leaving religious life in Los Angeles and moving to Boston in 1968.

A highlight of the exhibit is two original pieces taken from an 11-work series. Both are part of the family’s personal collection. The series depicts a cycle from joy to sorrow to rebirth, Marty said. The simplicity of the images infused with symbolic meaning is characteristic of Kent’s style.

“I think her biggest theme is to try and make the everyday spiritual,” Marty said. “She didn’t believe that religious art and secular art should be two different things. She made the everyday religious.”

A supporter of the anti-war movement, Kent’s pop art reflects the upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, tempered by other iconic elements from the era, such as rainbows and flowers.

“In some ways I feel as though her work is very generational. People alive in the 1960s seem to be more aware of ‘Sister Corita’ as an icon, and seem to have had more exposure to her artwork than our generation,” Marty said. “I very personally feel that it is important to get her work more publicly viewed … Her inspiring words and messages are timeless.”

Both exhibits were made possible by the generous support of Dean L.R. Poos of the School of Arts and Sciences.


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