Celebrating the third and final volume of his Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings—edited by EvaMeyer-Hermann and published last year—join Luc Tuymans in conversation with Helen Molesworth at the Morgan Library.
The artist will present a new solo exhibition at David Zwirner, Hong Kong, in March 2020. In 2009 at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Molesworth curated the first United States retrospective of Tuymans’s work.
Noah Davis (1983–2015) was a figurative painter and cofounder of theUnderground Museum (UM) in Los Angeles. Despite his untimely death at the age of thirty-two, Davis’ 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, [MarkRothko], and Luc Tuymans.Davis’ 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.
Generous, curious, and energetic, Davis founded—along with his wife, the sculptor Karon Davis—the Underground Museum, an artist- and family-run space for art and culture in Los Angeles. The UM began modestly—Noah and Karon worked to join three storefronts in the city’s Arlington Heights neighborhood. Davis’ dream was to exhibit “museum-quality” art in a working-class black and Latino 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’ unique curatorial gestures.
In 2014 Davis began organizing exhibitions using works selected from the MOCA Los Angeles’ collection as his starting point. In the aftermath of Davis’ passing, the team of family and friends he gathered continued his work at the UM, transforming it into one of the liveliest and most important gathering places in Los Angeles for artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers, and activists. — Helen Molesworth
The exhibition NOAH DAVIS—curated by Molesworth—is now on view at David Zwirner in New York. An iteration of the show will open at the Underground Museum in Los Angeles in March 2020.
A new Davis monograph—featuring an introduction by Molesworth and oral history interviews that she conducted with Davis’ friends, family, and colleagues—is forthcoming.
When I went to graduate school in the 1960s… I was faced with a dilemma… I was surrounded by ideas about art that I couldn’t identify with. I couldn’t identify with the practice of trying to decide what to put in a painting using a kind of intuition. Or looking at a painting as a vehicle for self-expression. It’s not that I looked down on that, or that I thought it was such a bad idea. It’s just that I wasn’t working in a manner that required that kind of behavior… Then I ran into a person who told me about a couple of books, which I bought and read. One was by the art historian Henri Focillon [1881–1943], called The Life of Forms in Art . The other was a big picture book on Tantric Buddhist art by Ajit Mookerjee [1915–1990]. In those books I began to find things that made sense to me in terms of art production.
[Focillon] had a Platonic perspective, that form was synonymous with number, with mathematics, with structure. And he said that form had a life of its own, had its own reciprocal fitness, had its own autonomous exigency..
This sounds like the tenets of high modernism. I don’t think it followed those tenets in talking about some kind of tautology or self-referential or self-reflexive apparatus. I saw it as a general critique of expressionism, which was central to my problem. I didn’t feel connected with the objects I was making, because when I made them, I wasn’t convinced that there was any connection between my motive to make something and the thing that I made. It just seemed arbitrary to me. I would see painters laboring in front of a painting, trying to decide whether a corner should be red or blue. To me it didn’t make any difference. It could be red or blue, you know? How can they feel good about a judgment that they make? On what basis do they establish this connection? And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out.
Focillon gave me the idea that you’re ultimately not the author of the object. You’re more like a vehicle of this realization without an author. With Tantric art I saw visual representation of the same idea. — Charles Gaines*
“Charles Gaines, January 31, 1995,” in ArtCenter Talks: Graduate Seminar, The First Decade1986–1995, edited by Stan Douglas (New York: David Zwirner Books / Pasadena, CA: ArtCenterGraduate Press, 2016), 172–197.