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corita kent

Power Up: Sister Corita and Donald Moffett, Interlocking

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
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power up: sister corita and donald moffett, interlocking

For the exhibition Power Up: Sister Corita and Donald Moffett, Interlocking, organizer Julie Ault has drawn together works by two artists active almost three decades apart, Corita Kent (1918–86) and Donald Moffett (b. 1955). Art created by Sister Corita includes works made between 1959 and 1969 in Los Angeles, while Moffett’s works were made between 1989 and 1992 in New York. Though their works differ notably in style and subject matter, both artists employ powerful statements about political and social issues, and both use multiple forms of distribution for their works.

Ault’s curatorial presence is not limited to selecting the artists and works for the exhibition. By presenting the works in a context that includes contemporary ephemeral materials as well as her own graphics,colored walls, and modular furniture, Ault has created a new work of art—the exhibition itself. In creating such an exhibition, she reinterprets the traditional curatorial role as artistic practice. As she has noted, curating is a political process as well as an aesthetic act and involves issues of inclusion and exclusion. Her openly subjective approach raises questions about curatorial objectivity and the institutional validation of art and artists through the design and presentation of exhibitions. By extension, Ault also asks questions about the act and meaning of collecting. Certainly the issue of collecting had much to do with our initial enthusiasm about presenting this exhibition at the Hammer, since the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts holds an extensive collection of works by Corita Kent. Corita made provisions for the bequest to the center of her personal archive of her own work, which includes more than nine hundred limited- edition serigraphs and related drawings and sketchbooks. As both a college teacher and a political activist, she was concerned that this nearly complete representation of thirty years of work be preserved intact within an extensive university art collection available to faculty, students, and the public for research purposes. Corita also recorded an extensive oral history through the UCLA Oral History Program which included a discussion of the intersecting concerns of her life and work: art, education, religion, ethics, and politics. She left her personal papers, photo archive, and remaining inventory of prints to the Immaculate Heart Community, whichestablished the Corita Art Center in 1997.

One of Corita’s “rules” for her students was “save everything.” In considering the role of a university museum collection such as the Grunwald Center, this admonition seems an appropriate point of departure for a brief discussion of the nature of institutional art collecting. Institutions cannot, in fact, save everything, and their forced selections determine to a certain extent how successive generations view and value art and cultural history. Thus, in making art, collecting art, and presenting exhibitions, we are confronted with a similar range of issues involving personal responsibility, guesses about the nature of the past and future needs, and, inevitably, limitations of time and space.

The Grunwald Center Collection comprises more than forty thousand prints, drawings, photographs, and artists’ books, primarily by European, American,and Japanese artists from the sixteenth century to the present. With medium— paper—as the primary principle of selection, graphic arts collectionssuch as the Grunwald Center often contain a wide variety of materials. As with other “special collections” in research libraries and archives, only a fraction of the holdings comes to public view in exhibitions. These collections typically range in date and place of origin from early Renaissance Italy to present-day Los Angeles or Mexico City and in type from one-of-a-kind drawings to mass-produced prints. The latter works might take the form of sixteenth-century “posters” intended to be pasted on city walls, eighteenth-century broadsheets, or illustrations for modern journals and newspapers. Their ephemeral nature and often-inexpensive materials ensure that what was once plentiful, and hardly “collectible,”is now rare. The growing interest—in both academic and museum circles—in what is often referred to as “visual culture” has also enhanced the intellectual and monetary value of such materials. But the question ofwhat to collect—given limitations of time, space, and funds—remains acomplex one. What most accurately represents a culture: a modest book of illustrated homilies, a broadsheet about a notorious trial or treaty, asketch for a connoisseur, or an engraving by Albrecht Dürer?

Included in the Grunwald collection are a large number of works by artists who created political and social satire, most notably the nineteenth- century satirists Honoré Daumier and George Cruikshank. The Corita Kent archive is part of this tumultuous tradition of social and political art. This area of collecting is a particular strength of the Grunwald Center and is especially appropriate to a collection belonging to a university where history, politics, and culture are examined in detail from a variety of perspectives.