SISTER CORITA wasn’t – and therefore was – made for worldly fame.


Who’d have thought a middle-aged nun would make pop art serigraphs, appear on the cover of Newsweek, design a “Love” stamp with a print run of 700 million, make the world’s largest copyrighted artwork (some splashy brushstrokes on the side of a Boston gas tank in which some claimed they could see the profile of Ho Chi Minh), befriend Charles and Ray Eames and Buckminster Fuller, promote peace, and be forced out of her seminary after crossing swords with a conservative archbishop?

SC3_News_Of_The_WeekAnd who’d have thought that the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart seminary would, just a year after Sister Corita’s departure, collapse and be disowned by the Catholic church because many of the nuns – following a series of encounter groups organized by the humanist psychotherapist Carl Rogers – embraced lesbianism? The desublimated sixties were a weird and wonderful time.

In a way, Sister Corita’s art is overshadowed by that historical moment when “permissiveness”and“old-fashioned virtue” still knew where they stood, and when it was therefore still possible to shock and surprise people. Twelve years after her death – perhaps precisely because we live in such different times – the art nun is experiencing a sort of renaissance, being championed by people like Wolfgang Tillmans and Aaron Rose.

A glance at “Passion for the Possible,” an exhibition of Sister Corita’s work in Mitte gallery Circleculture, might lead you to conclude that she produced work somewhere between Andy Warhol and a greeting card. Curator Rose (who has handpainted his own interpretations of Corita’s serigraphs onto the gallery walls) calls her “the positive West Coast alternative to Warhol.”


There’s a lot packed into that word “positive,” though. In 1964 Andy Warhol showed his Brillo boxes at Stable Gallery in New York. Two years earlier, Corita had exhibited Wonderbread, a composition based on the supermarket bread package featuring red, yellow and blue dots. Some saw them as images of the holy host. Corita added a phrase of Gandhi’s: “There are so many hungry people that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

IMG0001bAnd while Warhol was showing his soup cans – without Gandhi quotes – Corita was busy turning the brand name Sunkist into “the word for all things and all men ever since the Son (or the sun which is his picture) became a man and did kiss us in a most human fashion.”

While this might be hammering the ethical message home a little too hard, it may also be what fascinates us so much about Sister Corita today. In a world where New York drug culture has been mainstreamed (rather than claiming stamp-collecting has spiritual value, we talk about “getting our next stamp-collecting fix”), the nun’s moral mission represents an alluring form of otherness. Perhaps she’s closer to Beuys than Warhol.

It’s easy to see most Pop Art, in retrospect, as a nihilistic endorsement of the celebrity-and brand-addicted consumer culture that now occupies most of our field of vision. By keeping words, ideas, slogans, ideals, and causes so central in her work, Corita isn’t so easily neutered. Her work comes out of the unique cultural ferment of the 1960s when nuns, encouraged by JFK’s Camelot and Vatican II, could embrace the swinging counter-culture – and equally importantly, the counter-culture could embrace a political activism infused with some of the more radical and otherworldly values of Catholicism.

Come to think of it, maybe Corita wasn’t so different from Warhol after all; he’d probably have loved to be that upfront about his own deeply-held religious beliefs. And he’d certainly have enjoyed dressing up as a nun.



Related Content


    Dissed by a Nobel Prize winner, vindicated by the keepers of the holy grail of literature, spat on by the media elite: HELENE HEGEMANN was the enfant terrible Germany always wanted and finally got. More
  • Deeper

  • New Arrivals

    Buffalo by 032c Over The Knee Boot

    Buy Now

    Last week in London we launched our first ready-to-wear collection at Browns East, including a BUFFALO LONDON BY 032c collaboration. Little Simz, Danny Lomas, and Sophia Hadjipanteli joined 032c apparel creative director Maria Koch, fashion director Marc Goehring, and sales director Nunguja Kisalya for pizza, drinks, and dancing. See our snaps below.More
  • On Power, Picasso, and American People: An Interview with FAITH RINGGOLD

    Half a century before the latest protests at the Whitney Museum of Art, Faith Ringgold was there, in front of the museum alongside other activists demanding equitable representation of women and black artists in the institution’s exhibitions. As a painter she was influenced, as the European modernists she studied in college were, by the masks she saw while traveling in Africa in the 1970s. But she would never wear a mask herself. More

    Misshapen noses, frozen expressions and close-up shots of faded pink glitter create a grotesque ambiguity between animate and inanimate - as seen in this photoshoot conceived by Sasha Chaika, documenting Saint Petersburg’s bizarre Puppet Museum.More

    "Social media and society have something to do with the public square and having conversations and shared spaces. This project is a bit more running out into that space and shouting something out then running away. It's definitely a public statement, but there's no conversation really." Richard Turley and Lucas Mascatello on the possibility of intimacy in the New York-themed broadsheet CIVILIZATION. More