During a career that’s spanned almost five decades, artist Anthony Hernandez has applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship roughly half a dozen times.
“I always got the letter saying, ‘I’m sorry to inform you that…’” he says.
Last year, when the application period rolled around, Hernandez says he wasn’t planning on applying again. But his wife, novelist Judith Freeman, who was the recipient of a Guggenheim grant in 1997, urged him to give it another shot.
“I said, ‘OK, but this is the last time,’” he recalls.
It’s a good thing Hernandez submitted the application.
The Los Angeles photographer, known for his unblinking images of the Southern California landscape, is one of several dozen artists, scholars, writers and scientists across the United States to receive 2018 Guggenheim Fellowships — the complete list of which is expected to be released Thursday morning.
“It’s terrific,” says Hernandez. “[Photographer Edward] Weston was my first hero, and he got one of the first ones. A lot of my friends have gotten them. And I finally got one.”
He’ll use the grant on a series of works in which he shoots images of Los Angeles and other locales through a screen that renders ordinary corners of the urban landscape as abstracted fields of dots.
“They’re very ambiguous,” he says of the new work. “You’re not quite sure what they’re made of or what you are looking at.”
The grants, whose amounts are not disclosed, are awarded annually by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York — and their ranks include high-profile recipients such as essayist James Baldwin and choreographer Martha Graham.
As in many other years, the new list includes a healthy representation from Southern California: 17 thinkers and artists who hail from or are based in the region. This includes poet Amy Gerstler, historian Nile Spencer Green, astronomer Shrinivas R. Kulkarni and bestselling memoirist Roxane Gay — the latter for a project that will take her between Los Angeles and Lafayette, Ind., where she is on the faculty at Purdue University.
“We tend to give 10% of the fellowships to Southern California artists and scholars,” says foundation President Edward Hirsch, a poet who was also a Guggenheim grantee in 1985 (before joining as president). “It’s very striking.”
The California presence is so striking, in fact, that the foundation is hosting a special reception for West Coast fellows at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City later this month.
“We really wanted to do something and be more present to our fellows on the West Coast and to engage in a continuing conversation about the foundation,” Hirsch says. “We feel that our presence in California, both Northern and Southern, has been hiding in plain sight. But we have never focused on it in particular.”
The private soiree will provide an opportunity for Guggenheim fellows past and present to connect with one another and with the foundation. They are part of a very select club: This year, almost 3,000 individuals applied for grants; only 173 received them.
“It involves an extremely rigorous screening and selection,” says newly named fellow and UC Irvine humanities professor Edward Dimendberg. “You don’t just get a Guggenheim. There are all these levels of screening, committees and then the board of trustees.”
Dimendberg will use his grant to complete a book on a history of urban theory that looks at the ways L.A.’s urban design was treated as exception rather than rule by theorists throughout the 20th century.
“I’m on cloud nine still,” he says of receiving the award. “Just look at the website and the different fields. People who were leaders in those fields got Guggenheims. I’m incredibly proud and very humbled.”
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was established in 1925 by Simon and Olga Guggenheim in memory of their son, who died of an illness at age 17.
The first crop of fellows, announced the following year, consisted of 14 men and one woman working in the sciences, social sciences and humanities. The lineup included pioneering African American scholar Isaac Fisher, who studied global race relations, and composer Aaron Copland, who used his grant to research contemporary European music. (Copland had yet to write the compositions for which he became most famous, including “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.”)
From the fellowship’s earliest days, California thinkers were well represented.
One of the first visual artists to receive a grant was from Los Angeles: Isamu Noguchi, in 1927. With the grant money, he went to Paris to “acquire proficiency in stone and wood cutting.” There he studied under Modernist sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, whom he once described as a craftsman “unsurpassed in the technique of handling stone, metal and wood.”
An untold number of other California cultural figures have also received grants. Among them: pop conceptualist Ed Ruscha (1971), social practice pioneer Suzanne Lacy (1992), architectural historian Esther McCoy (1979), mathematician Michael Freedman (1981), novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen (2017) and several associated with the L.A. Rebellion, the school of independent black filmmakers that emerged out of Southern California in the ’70s and ’80s, including Charles Burnett (1980), Haile Gerima (1979) and Julie Dash (1981).
Chris Kraus, the L.A.-based author of the experimental novel “I Love Dick” and founder of the arts publisher Semiotext(e), was a Guggenheim fellow in 2016.
“It’s a validation and a show of support,” she says. “As an artist, you have to keep telling yourself you don’t need that validation. You have to be able to do without it. But it’s nice when it comes.”
Kraus put her award toward completing her latest book, “After Kathy Acker,” a biography of the punk poet and writer published last year.