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“Los Angeles is a city that was imagined long before it was built.” (Norman Klein, History of Forgetting and the Erasure of Memory, 27)

Over the last twenty years, Los Angeles has emerged as a hugely important center for visual artists. Not only has Los Angeles’ artistic production now been folded into the history of modern and contemporary art internationally, but its relatively young museums now have expansive collections; its cultural centers and alternative art spaces are entering their third and fourth decades of existence; and its art schools are the draw for emerging artists from around the globe. While the reception of Los Angeles has evolved from an exotic “imaginary” to a model city for the 21st century, so too has the understanding of its artistic landscape.

The California Community Foundation’s (CCF) Fellowships for Visual Artists reflects many of the dynamic changes in the region’s creative communities over the last twenty years. One of its first grant recipients, an emerging artist named Lari Pittman, is now a mentor and professor of a new flock of painters at the UCLA Department of Art where he has been a longstanding presence. One of its more recent grantees, Sara Velas, represents the efflorescence of artist initiated interdisciplinary sites with her Velaslavasay Panorama, an homage to the popular 19th Century immersive environments located in an historical theater in Los Angeles.

Twenty Years Ago Today provides a glimpse into the astonishingly fertile creative landscape of Los Angeles, showing not only the breadth of artistic visions in the city, but the richness of their development over time. By showing work by artists from the years in which they received their awards alongside more recent work, we can trace changes in the artists’ creative goals, interests and concerns. Making no claims to comprehensiveness, the exhibition will hint at the changes and developments in our city over the past two decades, and hopefully will prompt further investigation and reflection.

The juries’ selections have reflected an interest in representing artists who are important to other artists, overlooked artists, artists outside of the “commercial mainstream,” artists who give up much of their studio time for their roles as arts administrators and arts faculty. The individual artist fellowship not only champions their artistic output, it validates their professional choices. Many of the works that we have chosen from the artists’ grant era period were significantly enhanced through the support of the fellowship. Hilja Keading, for example, was able to complete the video installation on view in this exhibition, The Bonkers Devotional, with the funds provided by her fellowship, while Dominique Moody, among others, purchased crucial computer equipment. This degree of unconditional support has been critical to the successful contribution of these individuals to Los Angeles.

The landscape of funding has changed significantly throughout these last two decades, especially for individual visual artists. In 1989, the first year of these fellowships, the National Endowment for the Arts discontinued its influential grants for individual artists. Over the years, this type of individual support has dwindled, both nationally and regionally, making funding streams like CCF’s Fellowships for Visual Artists all the more important. By supporting artists at the visionary edge of our city, CCF, the J. Paul Getty Trust and other organizations like them help us collectively imagine our futures together.

—Rita Gonzalez and Kris Kuramitsu