Sister Corita, Seeing Wonders in Bread

THE DAILY PIC: The Los Angeles nun mixed sales and souls.


THE DAILY PIC: This image is not by some 1960s acolyte of Ellsworth Kelly or Tom Downing, the D.C. dotmeister. It is not, in fact, abstract at all. It is an evocation of Catholic communion wafers rendered as the dots from Wonderbread wrapping, and was made in 1968 by the artist known as Sister Corita. A show of her work opened Friday at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and it’s  fascinating. I admit to having been ignorant of Corita’s work, and worried in advance that the show would be feel-good family fare. Instead, it turned out to present one of the most sophisticated offshoots of Pop art that I know, and some of modern art’s most subtle and witty text-based work.

As the story goes, Corita, already launched as a tame printmaking nun, saw Warhol’s first Campbell’s Soup show, in Los Angeles in 1962, and it shook her world and her art. Instead of becoming Andy in a habit, however, she took things in her own direction, using commercial lettering as a scaffold for philosophical thought – I love her piece about flesh and spirit that’s built on the tomato-sauce tag-line, “Makes Meatballs Sing”. Corita hybridized the corporate logos and texts of General Mills and Del Monte with ideas from the Catholic church – another megacorporation, as Corita’s work always implied, even though it took her some time to abandon formal religion. Her work had the same love-hate relationship to theology and scripture that Warhol’s did to consumer culture; both were too immersed to divorce themselves from those roots, but too smart not to probe their immersion – and ours.

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