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Photo: Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community.
Corita Kent, then known as Sister Mary Corita, with students. “By the 1960s,” notes the Corita Art Center, “her vibrant serigraphs were drawing international acclaim. Corita’s work reflected her concerns about poverty, racism, and war.”

Talent will out. That was certainly the case with Sister Mary Corita, or Corita Kent, who became a force in the Pop Art scene of the 1960s with her focus on social justice.

At the Los Angeles Times, Carolina A. Miranda recently wrote, that 35 years after her death, the L.A. City Council approved historic-cultural monument status for her former studio — “a humble storefront on Franklin Avenue, near Western Avenue that in recent years had been inhabited by a dry cleaner.”

Miranda continues, “If you drew a Venn diagram that brought together Charles Eames, Pop Art, commercial printing, social justice movements, the Second Vatican Council and 1960s Los Angeles, only one person could inhabit the space where those areas intersect: Corita Kent.

“A nun in the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for more than three decades, Sister Mary Corita was a well-known educator and artist dubbed the ‘Pop Art nun’ by the press. … In her classroom at Immaculate Heart College, Kent taught the art of silkscreen printing — a commercial form that she adapted to the era of Pop. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, which called for a liberalization and modernization of the Catholic liturgy to the realities of 20th century life, she delved into creating work that echoed calls for social justice — be it antiwar efforts, labor campaigns or Black and Chicano civil rights.

“Her work at its most innovative took vernacular culture — commercial logos and graphics, bits of corporate slogans, images from mass media — and reconfigured them into fine art. Art that not only advanced the ways in which these elements were used formally, but that grounded Pop. … As independent curator Michael Duncan wrote of her work in a 2013 catalog: ‘She addressed consumers not of products but of life.’ …

“The [historic-cultural] designation is important not just because Kent was an artist whose work was a critical part of the artistic dialogues Los Angeles was having in the 1960s, but also because she represents the rare woman to be honored in the city’s landscape.

“As the Los Angeles Conservancy noted in its advocacy for preserving Kent’s studio building, only 3% of the city’s more than 1,200 historic-cultural monuments are associated with women’s heritage. … The designation is reflective of a shift in preservationists’ thinking about how we acknowledge history — thinking that is less preoccupied with the pristine historical details of a site than in making sure a wide range of histories are acknowledged in a city’s landscape. Late last year, the 1970 protest route of the Chicano Moratorium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places; early this year, the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights — a key site of Chicano activism — was added to the list. …

“The storefront that Kent inhabited, where she taught and collaborated with students and created some of her most memorable work, no longer bears traces of her presence. …

“Kent left the space — and Los Angeles — after she withdrew from the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in favor of a secular life in the late 1960s. Part of her departure may have been due to pressures related to her increasingly high profile: At one point, she was featured on the cover of Newsweek. It may have also stemmed from simmering tensions between the liberal Immaculate Heart order and the staunchly conservative Archbishop James Francis McIntyre, who once complained that that the work produced by Kent and the college’s art department was ‘an affront to me and a scandal to the archdiocese.’ In 1970, Immaculate Heart split from the church and is today an independent ecumenical community.

“The studio storefront, which is currently unoccupied, sits on a small corner of a 1.7-acre parcel that also contains a shuttered Rite-Aid. Recently, the plot was acquired by a pair of real estate development companies who intend to turn the site into a Lazy Acres natural foods market. Part of their original plan had been to tear down the studio to make way for additional parking. (Yes, parking.) That plan has since been amended to leave the old studio building intact.

“This comes thanks to the work of many L.A. preservationists, among them the staff at the Corita Art Center, which is located just across the street in a complex of buildings still inhabited by the Immaculate Heart Community.

“ ‘The big question is what’s next,’ says the center’s director Nellie Scott. It’s too soon to say what the developers will do with the property — whether they would sell it or lease it for the purpose of an arts center. ‘We know that there are a thousand more conversations to happen.’ ”

So interesting that a nun used her natural gift in this way. I’m reminded of the French legend about the Juggler of Notre Dame, who was ridiculed for having nothing to give Mary but his juggling. In the story, her statue accepts the gift with a miraculous bow.

More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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