UCC artwork focal point of exhibit at Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art
Written by Connie Larkman June 19, 2014
The 40-foot-long Beatitudes Wall by artist Corita Kent was unearthed from the UCC's archives in March and will be the focal point of the first full-scale survey of Kent's work at Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art June 27-Aug. 31.
It's big, it's bold, it's bright and it screams 'happy.'
Beatitudes Wall, a paint-on-canvas banner, created 50 years ago for an exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair in New York, will be the centerpiece of an exhibit this summer at Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The piece is on loan to the museum from the United Church of Christ, which unearthed the artwork from its archives at its national headquarters in Cleveland just a few months ago.
The painting, the work of Sister Mary Corita (Corita Kent), one of the most popular American graphic artists of the 1960s and 1970s, is 4 feet high and more than 40 feet long. So while it's hard to miss, it's also a significant find. Out of more than 150 to 200 pieces assembled for the collection, the MOCA curator recommended the UCC's banner as the exhibit centerpiece.
"This will be the focal point of the exhibition," said Sarah Rehm, MOCA's communication manager. "It is so happy and when you first walk into the gallery, it's the first thing you see. What a great feeling to kick off the exhibit!"
The exhibit, titled "Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent," the first full-scale survey of Sister Mary Corita's 30-year artistic career, will run from June 27 through Aug. 31. It is being sponsored exclusively by the UCC because of the denomination's historic relationship with the artist and the exhibit's slant toward social justice.
"Unearthing Sister Mary Corita's banner in our archives in time for it to be the focal point of the first full-scale survey of her work is nothing short of serendipitous," said the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, a national officer of the UCC and executive minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. "Our sponsorship of this exhibit is meaningful on multiple levels. It lifts up Corita Kent's work on issues such as civil rights and women's rights – issues inherent to the UCC – and also sheds light on this important piece of art from the UCC's past."
"We at MOCA Cleveland are delighted to be able to take advantage of this unexpected local connection to the life and work of Corita Kent," said Rose Bouthillier, associate curator and publications manager at MOCA. "The 'Beatitudes Wall' is an arresting piece, both for its scale and for the way it combines Corita's signature vibrant color palette and hand-painted texts that express themes of love, peace and understanding. We are very excited to present this piece to a public audience for the first time in almost 40 years."
"This is an absolutely exciting piece," said Heather Galloway, painting conservator from the ICA-Art Conservation group in Cleveland. Galloway was brought in by the UCC to do some restoration work, to ready the Beatitudes mural for its public debut. "Overall, given the size of this piece I think the work is in remarkable shape."
In a two-page proposal to prepare the canvas for exhibit, Galloway indicated she would address areas of flaking paint, caused in part by years spent stored in a tube rolled facing in, repair tears to the surface caused by mounting, and work to flatten major distortions in the canvas. "[It's] not a goal to get it flat and perfect – need to have some tolerances in life," she said.
On Tuesday, June 17, Galloway spent a full day in the painting's exhibit space on the museum's fourth four main gallery working to stabilize the painting and make it safe to hang, a job that could be observed by museum visitors throughout the day. The time with the artwork left her with an appreciation of the skill of the artist and the condition of the mural. "While there is certainly an accumulation of surface dirt, the colors are very bold and have retained their vibrancy. Her hand-in-paint application is remarkably even, and her hand must have been so steady to write her texts with such fluid paint and no obvious signs of mistakes."
Though it is more than 50 years old, Galloway said the artwork looks fantastic. "People have taken good steps all along in the care of this piece."
The banner was finally mounted on a new frame, or stretcher, that was shipped to MOCA from a manufacturer in Brooklyn, N.Y., which will remain with the artwork after the exhibit.
Sister Mary Corita, whose signature is visible in the lower-right corner of the canvas, used a mix of Bible scripture and quotes from Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy to create the Beatitudes mural. She painted three 40-foot banners for the Vatican Exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair and chose this one to display.
"I ultimately think the UCC took an important step in helping her work return to the public eye. I'd like to think that Kent would agree," said Galloway. "Archivist Edward Cade deserves enormous credit for knowing what the UCC had when others did not. He took the steps to contact MOCA and the rest of us should be grateful. What a surprise for all to find out that the UCC was holding such a gem."
"We are grateful to the United Church of Christ for being an enthusiastic partner in presenting the banner, and for taking such good care of it over the years," said Bouthillier.
"This piece needed to be up," Galloway said. "It needed to see the light of day. I'm excited to see it out, and get it up on the wall where it belongs."