As It Happens

Remembering 'underground' artist Noah Davis

Noah Davis, an artist and a champion of making art accessible to the poor, died this past weekend. He was just 32. He founded The Underground Museum in the Arlington Heights neighbourhood of Los Angeles.
Noah Davis in his studio (left) / MOCA's chief curator Helen Molesworth (right) (The Underground Museum/The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles)
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As an artist, Noah Davis went places no one else did -- figuratively, and literally.

Noah Davis, an artist and a champion of making art accessible to the poor, died this past weekend. He was just 32.

He started young. By his early twenties, his paintings were already renowned and accomplished. But his vision went beyond the canvas: in 2012, Mr. Davis founded The Underground Museum in the Arlington Heights neighbourhood of Los Angeles. His idea was to bring art to a place that was sorely lacking it.

Today, his installation "Imitation of Wealth" is on exhibit at MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Los Angeles.

Helen Molesworth knew Noah Davis, both as a collaborator and as a friend. She is the chief curator at MOCA.

Molesworth tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann that as an artist, Davis "had a very sophisticated sense of composition. He had a very distinctive palate. And he had a very strong ability to convey emotional affect in a painted image. The scale and the ambition of the work don't feel like the work of a young person."

Noah Davis, untitled, 2015, oil on camvas (Noah Davis/The Underground Museum)

Molesworth says Davis will also be remembered for his groundbreaking creation: The Underground Museum: "The Underground Museum is really his kind of Magnum Opus, his big artistic dream project. Noah was interested in putting an art space in a neighbourhood that is profoundly under-served in terms of culture. Arlington Heights is a black and Latino working class neighbourhood. I mean, on the block with The Underground Museum is a Jamaican food place, a bodega, an Evangelical Spanish-language church...you know, this is not a museum neighbourhood."

Noah Davis, untitled, 2015, oil on canvas (Noah Davis/The Underground Museum)

Molesworth says the death of Noah Davis is a huge loss: "I think what we lost is a really terrific painter...we'll never know what could've happened with that. But for me, in losing Noah we lose a sense of possibility, a sense of permission. Noah was really trying to figure out a way to be in the art world differently. And the thing is that the world that Noah was making was a world about not abiding by the status quo...pushing, pushing all of us to re-think the status quo whenever we can."