We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend Noah Davis.
Our hearts are with his family...
Noah Davis, a painter and installation artist who founded the Underground Museum, an exhibition space in a working-class neighborhood of Los Angeles that provides free art shows, died on Saturday at his home in Ojai, Calif. He was 32.
He learned he had cancer a few years ago, his family said in confirming the death.
Mr. Davis’s paintings were mostly figurative works depicting blacks in surreal landscapes, sometimes with their features distorted or smeared in a manner reminiscent of Francis Bacon. He drew inspiration from sources as varied as Richard Brautigan’s 1968 novella “In Watermelon Sugar” and “The Jerry Springer Show.”
“The palette is very moody and evocative, and he has an extraordinary ability to convey emotional effect,” Helen Molesworth, the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, said by telephone Tuesday.
Mr. Davis founded the Underground Museum with his wife, the artist Karon Davis, in 2012 (they had married in 2008) in a row of storefronts in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mr. Davis organized eclectic shows there like “The Oracle,” which combined sculptures by Henry Taylor, 19th-century carvings from Sudan and a video installation by his brother, the video artist Kahlil Joseph. The work, titled “m.A.A.d,” is a 15-minute paean to the Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles set to the music of Kendrick Lamar.
Another exhibition was Mr. Davis’s 2013 installation “Imitation of Wealth,” in which he recreated works by artists like Jeff Koons and On Kawara using inexpensive materials.
“I like the idea of bringing a high-end gallery into a place that has no cultural outlets within walking distance,” Mr. Davis told the magazine Art in America that year. The installation is now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, with free admission.
Noah Marcus Davis was born in Seattle on June 3, 1983, to Keven Davis, a lawyer, and Faith Childs-Davis. He studied at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York but did not graduate.
Mr. Davis’s art has been exhibited in group shows at the Studio Museum of Harlem and in the Rubell Family Foundation’s “30 Americans,” which has showcased the work of African-American artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington and the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.
Mr. Davis sometimes felt frustrated by being grouped with other artists by race. “For a while, I thought I was being put in a box,” he told the alternative newspaper The Stranger in 2010. “But it’s the most glamorous box I’ve ever been in, so whatever.”
In addition to his mother, his brother and his wife, Mr. Davis is survived by a son, Moses.
The Museum of Contemporary Art has also begun showing artwork from its permanent collection at the Underground Museum, under a three-year partnership that is to feature themed exhibitions of works by Dan Flavin, James Turrell, Ellsworth Kelly and others. tThe shows had been planned by Mr. Davis.