BE OF LOVE AND OTHER STORIES: CONTEMPORARY HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PERMANENT COLLECTION
NEWPORT ART MUSEUM
76 BELLEVUE AVENUE
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
By Suzanne Volmer
Newport Art Museum curator Francine Weiss chose “be of love and other stories” as the exhibition title for the current show perhaps to rec- ognize that love of art takes passion. With abundant variety, “Contemporary Highlights of the Permanent Collection” flow throughout the first and second floors of the museum’s Griswold House.
The phrase “be of love” comes from an e.e.cummings poem and the words appear in a serigraph in the show by Corita Kent. This print anchors the exhi- bition for Weiss, who was delighted to learn that something by Kent was in the museum’s collection.
Weiss had been impressed by the Harvard Art Museums’ exhibit “Corita Kent and the Language of Pop” in 2015. Her “Rainbow Swoosh” is the well-known abstract graphic across a large white natural gas storage tank off I-93, just south of Boston; when it was painted in 1971 it gained an instant place-making significance enroute to becoming an iconic visual landmark.
Kent was a young nun, artist and col- lege educator in Los Angeles during the 1960s when Vatican II reforms were initi- ated. In the wake of the Watts riots, during the Vietnam War, and at the dawn of wom- en’s liberation, her aesthetic took shape. It addressed issues like peace and feed- ing the poor, both biblical imperatives. She thought about accessibility and used an image sensibility drawn from popular culture in order to affect change.
Kent was influenced by signage in grocery store windows: advertisements for products like Wonder Bread. Her work questioned the nutritional value of foods available to the poor. She was also concerned about peace. As was true for many Americans, the Kennedy assassinations deeply affected her. People have speculated on the hidden imagery of “Swoosh”; perhaps it is just a wonderful homage to public art visible from the JFK Library. Kent’s color sense is and was exceptional. She was among artists collectively defining the direction of Pop Art and she exhibited with Andy Warhol and others in New York City.