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Sister Mary Corita Kent




36 x 24 in. (91.44 x 60.96 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

In her striking 1960s pop prints, Sister Corita Kent made use of advertising and hand-drawn signage obtained from the Market Basket, a Los Angeles grocery store located across the street from Immaculate Heart College, where she taught. Corita was inspired to make work around the theme of food partly in response to Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 speech inaugurating his War on Poverty program. She addressed consumers not of products but of life. To get our attention, she chopped up slogans, reversed well-known phrases, stacked adages, morphed mottoes, and contrasted crisp-edged fonts with sloppy handwriting. She interrupted subliminal responses to well-known slogans by decontextualizing them, borrowing their promises in the name of celebratory humanism: “The best to you each morning,” “There is nothing like a Lark,” “Be Alive.” A true subversive, she converted advertising and signage into appeals for her moral concerns.

Vance Packard’s 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders had first exposed the subliminal tactics used by Madison Avenue to compel consumer sales. Corita’s work struck a chord with this kind of analysis as well as with changing postwar attitudes about corporate culture. Furthering her up-front, socioreligious agenda, she created her prints in the context of a consumerist American culture that had recently discovered the power of the baby boomer market.

One of Corita’s most immediate works, in appropriates a hand-drawn entry sign, shifting its orientation upward, pointing us in the traditional direction of spiritual concerns. To convey a personal touch, she severs the lower portion of the sign to create two differently colored silkscreens; the irregular cropping stresses the hand-drawn quality of the original supermarket sign. These simple manipulations redefine the sign’s function, proclaiming a different direction for everyday life. Fully aware of 1960s slang, Corita suggests an alternate “in” route to the cutting edge.

Michael Duncan

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