The painting quickly summons Édouard Manet’s ravishing The Balcony (1868–1869). Manet’s painting is a consummate example of the new role of the artist in nineteenth-century France, no longer at the behest of kings or queens artists were free to make their own images. They broke from mythology, religious subject matter, and society portraits, turning instead to the changing texture of their cities and the lives lived within.
Davis probably knew that Manet’s picture was itself a love letter to Goya’s Majas on a Balcony (c.1800–1810). But Davis plays his hand lightly, offering us a mnemonic flow of historical images—from the painter of everyday life to the enigma of Goya’s women—all wrapped up in a passing glance, a moment of interstitial time—a mere moment in the parking lot of the dentist’s office.
Luc Tuymans, Leopoldville, 2000 (detail). Private Collection
We can see some of this connective tissue in a painting such as Tuymans’s Leopoldville (2000), where we see the exterior of a modernist building in the Congo’s capital city of Kinshasa, which was called “Leopoldville” under the murderous colonial rule of Belgium. Tuymans manages to condense the entirety of that brutal regime into an image as glancing, interstitial, fleeting, and nondescript as Davis’s image of an ersatz grouping of solitary individuals, cohering ever-so-provisionally into a group, on a timelessly sunny Southern California day.
Charles C. Ebbets, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932 (detail)
Noah Davis, Los Angeles, 2009. Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith