Critics’ Picks

Corita Kent, The Word Pitched His Tent, 1962, screen print on paper, 26 x 31".

Corita Kent, The Word Pitched His Tent, 1962, screen print on paper, 26 x 31".


Corita Kent

Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
August 13, 2016–January 29, 2017

In an intimate gallery below a spectacularly fabulous Andy Warhol prints retrospective rests Sister Corita Kent’s contemplative antidote: a pithy hotbed of rainbow-hued prints that chart her trajectory from art-teaching nun to politically radical Pop art maestra. While at first one might feel that Big Andy upstairs dwarfs Underdog Kent in a wrestling match for best silk-screener, looking at Warhol situates Kent as a fellow genius appropriator of commercial advertising and lover of mechanical art’s democratic potential. This art-historical repositioning is significant because the forthright, earnest messages in her early works have arguably, and unfortunately, freaked out some viewers. Now, those squeamish about spiritual conversation can simply eye-candy away on the formal splendor of the artist’s geometric overlays, valiant treatments of scale, unorthodox typographic experiments, and striking color palettes. In The Word Pitched His Tent, 1962, solid cadmium red, magenta, and black tunnel shapes are stacked on top of one another, with a crude yellow sun stamped above them. The title references John 1:14, in which Jesus pitches his tent with humankind: With this, the image becomes an abstract ode to alliances and modesty.

To detach Kent’s empowering sociopolitical, epigrammatic slogans from her graphic sensibility, though, would mean missing her subversive wordplay: memos about benevolence, love, peace, and transforming media bombardments into simplified, reflectively humane insights. Later works borrow snippets of D. H. Lawrence, Navajo chants, and e.e. cummings, such as Crazy Enough, 1968, a lush, shoegaze-y yellow-and-black floral collage (a paean to a bumblebee?) with the poet demurely quoted at the bottom: “I thank heaven somebody’s crazy enough to give me a daisy.” Absorptive and inviting, Kent’s prints leaves one invigorated.