Noah Davis | London | October 8–November 17, 2021 | David Zwirner

Noah Davis

David Zwirner is pleased to present a selection of work by American artist Noah Davis (1983–2015), organized by Helen Molesworth. On view in London, the exhibition will provide an overview of Davis’s brief but expansive career. Following the gallery’s highly acclaimed exhibition in New York in January 2020, this will be the first presentation of the artist’s work in the United Kingdom.
 
Davis’s work is notable for its seemingly uncomplicated relationship between, on the one hand, his lush, sensual figurative paintings and, on the other hand, an ambitious social practice project called the Underground Museum, a Black-owned-and-operated art space dedicated to the exhibition of museum-quality art in a culturally underserved African American and Latinx neighborhood in Los Angeles. 

The exhibition will highlight both parts of Davis’s oeuvre through a group of his most enduring paintings as well as models, artworks, and archival materials that tell the story of the Underground Museum. 
 
On the occasion of the exhibition, a monograph is forthcoming from David Zwirner Books, featuring a new essay by writer and musician Greg Tate and a roundtable discussion with curator Thomas Lax, artists Glenn Ligon and Julie Mehretu, and poet and scholar Fred Moten, moderated by Helen Molesworth.


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Video: Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021. Video by Pushpin Films

Dates
October 8November 17, 2021
Artist
A photo of Noah Davis painting a figure.

Noah Davis, Los Angeles, 2009 (detail). Photo by Patrick O'Brien Smith

Noah Davis, Los Angeles, 2009 (detail). Photo by Patrick O'Brien Smith

Noah Davis was a painter and cofounder of the Underground Museum (UM) in Los Angeles. Despite his untimely death at the age of thirty-two, Davis’s paintings are a crucial part of the rise of figurative and representational painting in the first two decades of the twenty-first century.

Loneliness and tenderness suffuse his rigorously composed paintings, as do traces of his abiding interest in artists such as Marlene Dumas, Kerry James Marshall, Fairfield Porter, and Luc Tuymans. Davis’s pictures can be slightly deceptive; they are modest in scale yet emotionally ambitious. Using a notably dry paint application and a moody palette of blues, purples, and greens, his work falls into two loose categories: There are scenes from everyday life, such as a painting of a young boy in his Sunday best, or a man reading a newspaper in a housing project designed by famed modernist architect Paul Williams. And there are paintings that traffic in magical realism, surreal images that depict the world both seen and unseen, where the presence of ancestors, ghosts, and fantasy is everywhere apparent.

—Helen Molesworth

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled The Conductor, dated 2014.

Noah Davis

The Conductor, 2014
Oil on canvas
69 x 76 inches (175.3 x 193 cm)

The Conductor is part of a group of paintings based on the Pueblo del Rio community in Los Angeles, a public housing project designed by prominent architects including Richard Neutra and Paul Williams that was built in 1941, but was later plagued by poverty, gang violence, and over-policing. Like Kerry James Marshall’s Garden Project of 1994 to 1995, which depicts public housing complexes in Chicago and LA, Davis’s paintings present a hopeful vision of such developments, but at the same time a quieter, more lyrical take on this theme.

A photo of the Pueblo del Rio housing project in Los Angeles.

A view of the Pueblo del Rio housing project, Los Angeles

A view of the Pueblo del Rio housing project, Los Angeles

“The [Pueblo del Rio] paintings represent the potential of art and performance in a low-income community.”

—Noah Davis, 2014

An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Pueblo del Rio: Vernon, dated 2014.

Noah Davis

Pueblo del Rio: Vernon, 2014
Oil on canvas
69 x 76 inches (175.3 x 193 cm)
A photo of Noah Davis, Khalil Davis, and Helen Molesworth at The Underground Museum.

Noah Davis, Kahlil Joseph, and Helen Molesworth, Underground Museum, 2015

Noah Davis, Kahlil Joseph, and Helen Molesworth, Underground Museum, 2015

“When I see Noah’s paintings, what I’m really aware of is just what an extraordinary instrument painting is for making images that negotiate and navigate the complexity of human experience.”

Helen Molesworth, 2020

An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Indigo Kid, dated 2010.

Noah Davis

Indigo Kid, 2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 inches (76.2 x 61 cm)

Indigo Kid is a painting of Davis’s son, Moses, who was born the year before. Davis associated indigo with magical properties—qualities he likewise attributed to his young son.

A photo of Noah Davis painting with his son Moses.

Noah Davis and Moses Davis, Los Angeles, c. 2010–2011

Noah Davis and Moses Davis, Los Angeles, c. 2010–2011

A photo of Noah Davis and his son Moses Davis at James Harris Gallery, Seattle, in 2010. Photo by Karon Davis.

Noah Davis and Moses Davis, James Harris Gallery, Seattle, 2010

Noah Davis and Moses Davis, James Harris Gallery, Seattle, 2010

A photo pf Noah Davis with his son Moses.

Moses Davis and Noah Davis, Underground Museum, 2013

Moses Davis and Noah Davis, Underground Museum, 2013

Golden Boy imagines Moses in the future. Dressed as a kind of dandy and holding a walking stick, he stands in a featureless space, stepping forward into the light.

An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Golden Boy, dated 2010.

Noah Davis

Golden Boy, 2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
28 x 22 inches (71.1 x 55.9 cm)
An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Mary Jane, dated 2008.

Noah Davis

Mary Jane, 2008
Oil and acrylic on canvas
60 x 52 1/4 inches (152.4 x 132.7 cm)
Framed: 61 3/8 x 53 5/8 inches (155.9 x 136.2 cm)

“A small black girl wearing Mary Janes stands before a wall,” Roberta Smith writes of Mary Jane (2008). “The entire background pattern is rendered in thick, roiled paint—a hallucinatory expanse of vines or waves.… The intensity … contrasts with the girl’s fine skin and self-possessed expression; Mary Jane might be Alice in Wonderland about to enter the rabbit hole.”

A detail from a painting by Noah Davis, titled Mary Jane, dated 2008.

Noah Davis, Mary Jane, 2008 (detail)

Noah Davis, Mary Jane, 2008 (detail)

“My paintings just have a very personal relationship with the figures in them. They’re about the people around me. I want people to read them like this whilst taking a meaning of their own from each work.”

—Noah Davis, 2010

A photo of Noah Davis painting a canvas at The Underground Museum.

Noah Davis at work, Underground Museum, 2013

Noah Davis at work, Underground Museum, 2013

“Ultimately, I want to change the way people view art, the way people buy art, the way they make art. I’ve always tried to balance the tightrope of making my art accessible to those who are aware of the craft, and those who aren’t convinced of art or more specifically my artistic objective. I believe that concealing too much in theory is problematic and that art can function in everyday life. I strive for an artistic legacy that not only transcends blackness but confluences and impacts all cultures.”

—Noah Davis

 
An oil on canvas in artist's frame artwork by Noah Davis, titled 1975 (9), dated 2013.

Noah Davis

1975 (9), 2013
Oil on canvas
49 1/2 x 72 1/2 inches (125.7 x 184.2 cm)

Davis’s 1975 series of paintings is based on snapshots taken by the artist’s mother, Faith Childs-Davis, while attending South Shore High School in Chicago and in the ensuing years. Featuring groups of people at community swimming pools and in other urban areas, these works capture scenes of the city’s South Side as well as Child-Davis’s travels to California and abroad.

 

 
an installation view of two paintings by Noah Davis with the artist standing in front of them.

Noah Davis, Underground Museum, 2013

Noah Davis, Underground Museum, 2013

Generous, curious, and energetic, Davis founded, along with his wife, the sculptor Karon Davis, the Underground Museum, a dynamic space for art and culture in Los Angeles. The UM began exceedingly modestly—Noah and Karon worked to join four storefronts in the city’s Arlington Heights neighborhood. Noah’s dream was to exhibit “museum-quality” art in a working-class Black and Latinx neighborhood. In the early days of the UM, Davis was unable to secure museum loans, so he organized exhibitions of his work alongside that of his friends and family, and word of mouth spread about Davis’s unique curatorial gestures.

—Helen Molesworth

 
A photo of The Underground Museum facade in Los Angeles.

Underground Museum facade, Los Angeles

Underground Museum facade, Los Angeles

A photo of Noah Davis's family and friends at David Zwirner, New York, in 2020.

The artist's family and friends, David Zwirner, New York, 2020

The artist's family and friends, David Zwirner, New York, 2020

An installation view of an exhibition titled Imitation of Wealth Curated by Noah Daviss at The Underground Museum in 2013.
Installation view, Imitation of Wealth, Underground Museum, Los Angeles, 2013
Installation view, Imitation of Wealth, Underground Museum, Los Angeles, 2013
An installation view of an exhibition titled Imitation of Wealth Curated by Noah Daviss at The Underground Museum in 2013.
Installation view, Imitation of Wealth, Underground Museum, Los Angeles, 2013
Installation view, Imitation of Wealth, Underground Museum, Los Angeles, 2013
An installation of paintings by Noah Davis at The Underground Museum.

Works by Noah Davis at the Underground Museum

Works by Noah Davis at the Underground Museum

An installation view of an exhibition titled Deana Lawson: Planes at The Underground Museum in 2018.

Installation view, Deana Lawson: Planes, Underground Museum, 2018

Installation view, Deana Lawson: Planes, Underground Museum, 2018

An installation view of an exhibition titled Artists of Color Curated by Noah Daviss at The Underground Museum in 2013.

Installation view, Artists of Color, Underground Museum, 2013

Installation view, Artists of Color, Underground Museum, 2013

A photo of Noah, Karon, and Moses Davis with family and friends in Los Angeles.

Noah Davis with family and friends, Los Angeles, c. 2013

Noah Davis with family and friends, Los Angeles, c. 2013

“I think Noah had a knack for identifying what matters in this moment—which conversations, which sort of relationships, with communities and individuals coming together.… He knew what risks to take. He could’ve just been painting, but he thought beyond his own work.”

—Deana Lawson, 2020

 
An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

“There always was this ferment of Black social and aesthetic activity in that neighborhood, and there still is. I always thought that part of what was so great about the Underground Museum was that it wasn’t unprecedented. It was great in part because … it was adding to and accentuating what was already there.”

—Fred Moten, 2020

A photo of Noah Davis, David Hammons, Ian White, Henry Taylor, and Kahlil Joseph, at the Underground Museum, Los Angeles, in 2015.

Noah Davis, David Hammons, Ian White, Henry Taylor, and Kahlil Joseph, at the Underground Museum, Los Angeles, 2015

Noah Davis, David Hammons, Ian White, Henry Taylor, and Kahlil Joseph, at the Underground Museum, Los Angeles, 2015

A photo of The Underground Museum's flag.

Underground Museum’s flag, with crest designed by Noah Davis, 2013

Underground Museum’s flag, with crest designed by Noah Davis, 2013

A detail from a painting by Noah Davis, titled The Year of the Coxswain, dated 2009.

Noah Davis, The Year of the Coxswain, 2009 (detail)

Noah Davis, The Year of the Coxswain, 2009 (detail)

In 2009, Davis worked on a group of works inspired by the story of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis, ill-fated lovers who eventually became the god of the underworld and the goddess of fertility, protection, and mourning, respectively. Davis draws a parallel in particular between Osiris’s fate and contemporary Black experience. Prior to his resurrection by Isis, Osiris’s body was cut into pieces and scattered across Egypt.

An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled The Year of the Coxswain, dated 2009.

Noah Davis

The Year of the Coxswain, 2009
Oil on canvas
Image: 48 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches (123.2 x 123.2 cm)

“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.… There’s an unexpected optimism to all this. The paintings also dwell in silence, slow us down and hypnotize.”

—Roberta Smith, The New York Times, 2020

An acrylic and gouache on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled 40 Acres and a Unicorn, dated 2007.

Noah Davis

40 Acres and a Unicorn, 2007
Acrylic and gouache on canvas
30 x 26 inches (76.2 x 66 cm)

Forty Acres and a Unicorn (2007) … takes its name from the Civil War promise of land and a mule to families freed from slavery, a radical pledge but one that was never realised.… Davis simultaneously shows this promise for what it was—the stuff of legend—and for what it symbolised: hope, the space to prosper, emancipation. Picturing the world like this, both looking at the one we’ve inherited and turning away from it, towards something better, is at the core of everything Davis created.”

—Imogen Greenhalgh, Elephant Magazine, 2020

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Noah Davis, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Noah Davis, at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

“It’s no mistake that Noah’s paintings are filled with figures that are touching each other. It’s also no mistake that Noah’s paintings are filled with solitary figures fully occupying the existential state of loneliness.… Art helps us find the members of our infinitely dispersed tribe; art helps to bind us to one another. This is the great gift that Noah Davis left us.”

—Helen Molesworth, 2020

A photo of a book titled Noah Davis, printed in 2020.

Providing a crucial record of Davis’s extraordinary oeuvre, this critically acclaimed monograph tells the story of a brilliant artist and cultural force through the eyes of his friends and collaborators. The book features an essay by Helen Molesworth and interviews with artists including Thomas Houseago, Deana Lawson, and Henry Taylor.

Buy the Book

Learn More about Works by Noah Davis

An acrylic, gouache, and conte crayon on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Bad Boy for Life, dated 2007.

Noah Davis

Bad Boy for Life, 2007
Acrylic, gouache, and conte crayon on canvas
30 x 30 inches (76.2 x 76.2 cm)
An oil and acrylic on linen artwork by Noah Davis, titled Another Balcony, dated 2009.

Noah Davis

Another Balcony, 2009
Oil and acrylic on linen
48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Congo #7, dated 2014.

Noah Davis

Congo #7, 2014
Oil on canvas
72 x 47 7/8 inches (182.9 x 121.9 cm)
An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Golden Boy, dated 2010.

Noah Davis

Golden Boy, 2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
28 x 22 inches (71.1 x 55.9 cm)
An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Mary Jane, dated 2008.

Noah Davis

Mary Jane, 2008
Oil and acrylic on canvas
60 x 52 1/4 inches (152.4 x 132.7 cm)
Framed: 61 3/8 x 53 5/8 inches (155.9 x 136.2 cm)
An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Brown Catholics Eating Blue Hearts, dated 2008.

Noah Davis

Brown Catholics Eating Blue Hearts, 2008
Oil and acrylic on canvas
30 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches (76.8 x 76.8 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Leni Riefenstahl, dated 2010.

Noah Davis

Leni Riefenstahl, 2010
Oil on canvas
73 3/4 x 60 inches (187.3 x 152.4 cm)
An oil on canvas in artist's frame artwork by Noah Davis, titled Congo, dated 2015.

Noah Davis

Congo, 2015
Oil on canvas in artist's frame
49 1/2 x 73 1/2 inches (125.7 x 186.7 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled The Year of the Coxswain, dated 2009.

Noah Davis

The Year of the Coxswain, 2009
Oil on canvas
Image: 48 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches (123.2 x 123.2 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Sugartown, dated 2011.

Noah Davis

Sugartown, 2011
Oil on canvas
93 x 62 inches (236.2 x 157.5 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled The Conductor, dated 2014.

Noah Davis

The Conductor, 2014
Oil on canvas
69 x 76 inches (175.3 x 193 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Pueblo del Rio: Vernon, dated 2014.

Noah Davis

Pueblo del Rio: Vernon, 2014
Oil on canvas
69 x 76 inches (175.3 x 193 cm)
An acrylic and gouache on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled 40 Acres and a Unicorn, dated 2007.

Noah Davis

40 Acres and a Unicorn, 2007
Acrylic and gouache on canvas
30 x 26 inches (76.2 x 66 cm)
An oil, acrylic, and gold leaf on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled A Snail's Pace, dated 2010.

Noah Davis

A Snail's Pace, 2010
Oil, acrylic, and gold leaf on canvas
48 x 54 7/8 inches (122 x 139.5 cm)
An oil on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled 1984, dated 2009.

Noah Davis

1984, 2009
Oil on canvas
48 1/4 x 48 inches (122.5 x 122 cm)
An oil and acrylic on canvas artwork by Noah Davis, titled Indigo Kid, dated 2010.

Noah Davis

Indigo Kid, 2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 inches (76.2 x 61 cm)

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