An untitled painting by Noah Davis, dated 2015.

Noah Davis

Celebrating Noah Davis

April 1, 2020

With Karon Davis, Kahlil Joseph, and Helen Molesworth
A portrait of Noah Davis, dated 2009.
Noah Davis, 2009. Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith

A special episode dedicated to the late artist Noah Davis, with some of the people who knew him best. The curator Helen Molesworth, his brother, the filmmaker Kahlil Joseph, and his wife, the artist Karon Davis, remember Davis, whose legacy continues to grow—through his paintings, which depict everyday life with emotional and formal ambition; The Underground Museum, the space he founded in Los Angeles that combines many different worlds; and the family, literal and figurative, that coalesced around the magnetism of his personality.

A critically acclaimed exhibition of Davis’s work, which was on view at David Zwirner in New York earlier this year, will soon travel to the Underground Museum in Los Angeles. 

Dialogues: The David Zwirner Podcast

Noah Davis

“He was a visionary and he knew it.”

March 31, 2020

The New York Times

“The low-slung building on Washington Boulevard here might seem like a nondescript storefront sandwiched between a carpet installation business and a lawn mower repair shop.

But in the eight years since it was founded, the Underground Museum has become not only one of the most important destinations for black art in the country but also a crucial gathering place for its working class Arlington Heights neighborhood—with a bookstore featuring works by black writers, poetry readings in the wooden bar and events in its back garden including free meditation, yoga and movie screenings.

As cultural institutions all over the world wrestle with how to bring art to the public during the pandemic, smaller ones like the Underground Museum are also trying to figure out how to continue serving communities that have come to rely on them in other ways.

'It’s not just pretty pictures we’re putting on the wall,' said Karon Davis, an artist who created the museum with her husband, the painter Noah Davis, who was the moving force behind the Underground and died in 2015 of a rare cancer at age 32. 'We’re actually doing a lot of work for the community.'’

Read the full article in The New York Times

On Noah Davis

March 2020

Karon Davis, Thelma Golden, Helen Molesworth, and Henry Taylor on the celebrated artist and The Underground Museum

In this video, Karon Davis, Thelma Golden, Helen Molesworth—who organized the recent exhibition of Davis’s work at the gallery in New York—and fellow artist Henry Taylor recall Davis’s singular charisma, and how he used it to turn The Underground Museum from a beautiful dream into reality.

Cover image above: Noah Davis, Untitled, 2015

“Art history is full of artists whose careers, cut short by early death, haunt us with their unfulfilled promise. The 20th century is pocked with many such examples, a mere handful of which include Paula Modersohn-Becker (who died at 31); Egon Schiele (28); Bob Thompson (28); Eva Hesse (34); Jean-Michel Basquiat (27).

The 21st century has the painter Noah Davis, now the subject of a big, beautiful exhibition at David Zwirner in Manhattan. He died of a rare cancer in Ojai, Calif., in August 2015, just three months after turning 32.

Talented and charismatic, with a knack for rallying people, Davis was inclusive in his art and his life. He gathered his family and friends around him and refused to commit to a single figurative style or to use photographic images in a formulaic way. Nearly every canvas here is different, and most have an interpretive and painterly openness. Your eyes and mind enter them easily and roam through the different layers of brushwork and narrative suggestion. There’s an unexpected optimism to all this. The paintings also dwell in silence, slow us down and hypnotize.”

Read the full review in The New York Times

Cover image above: Noah Davis, Untitled, 2015

“Davis liked painting people. But only a handful of his works qualify as portraits. Some teeter on abstraction. There is, for instance, an odd, intriguing, not quite successful painting that superimposes two paintings of houses on a brushy, brown abstraction resembling Mark Rothko’s work.

Others read as scenes from dreams. Describing them would be both laborious and redundant. Visually, however, they’re both hallucinatory and credible — unlike standard Surrealistic fare, which almost always feels concocted.

There was nothing formulaic about Davis’s approach. Even when he was painting mundane domestic scenes, his eye for the subject and his painterly treatment infused them with a sly, soft-pedaled, gently melancholy wonder. One thinks of Fairfield Porter with a little more zing, or of a more nonchalant Peter Doig.

In several images, Davis showed people dwarfed by varieties of magical immensity. He would paint a child in blue pajamas at the foot of a daunting wooden staircase leading to a door emitting a mysterious cloud of colored glitter. Or a man looking at a monumental abstract sculpture on the leafy grounds of a wealthy estate. Or simply the night sky over Los Angeles.

But my favorite Davis painting shuns any hint of the sublime. It depicts a mother and her young daughter at a street crossing. Beside them, a man dressed in black and clutching a plastic bag bends over to retrieve something from the gutter.

Merely as a fragment of life, the image is compelling. What makes it great is the division of the composition into taut diagonals and fiercely pulsing stripes. Against these, Davis superimposes the bright, almost jitterbugging mosaic pattern on the mother’s spandex pants. Combining formal audacity with emotional intimacy and sharp social observation, the picture attains a fullness of humorous, sorrowing life.” 

Read the full review in The Washington Post

Cover image above: Noah Davis, Untitled, 2015


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