A detail from a painting by Noah Davis, titled 1975 (8), dated 2013.

Noah Davis

The Underground Museum, Los Angeles
April 11–December 18, 2020
A selection of works presented in the solo exhibition Noah Davis at David Zwirner New York earlier this year will travel to The Underground Museum in Los Angeles. Both shows were organized by Helen Molesworth. Davis founded the museum with his wife Karon, a sculptor, as an artist- and family-run space born of Davis’s dream of showing “museum-quality” art in a working-class black and Latinx neighborhood.

The exhibition at The Underground Museum features eighteen paintings dating from 2007–2015, including three that were not shown in New York—Portrait of My Cousin (2007), 40 Acres and a Unicorn (2007), and Spoonfed (2010).

As Molesworth notes in her curatorial introduction to the exhibition at the gallery, 

“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 portrait of his young son, a soldier returning from war, or 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 are everywhere apparent.”

“Talented and charismatic, with a knack for rallying people,” Roberta Smith writes in The New York Times’s review of the New York exhibition, “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.”

A new monograph, featuring an introduction by Molesworth and oral history interviews that she conducted with Davis’s friends, family, and colleagues, is forthcoming from David Zwirner Books and The Underground Museum. 

Image: Noah Davis, 1975 (8), 2013 (detail)

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