Art And Culture

Young Founder of Underground Museum Dies of Rare Cancer

Young Founder of Underground Museum Dies of Rare CancerYoung Founder of Underground Museum Dies of Rare Cancer

Noah Davis, the Los Angeles based painter of surreal, post-racial images and the founder of the nonprofit space the Underground Museum, has died at 32.

The cause of death has not been announced, but he was sick with a rare cancer, according to a Los Angeles Times article published earlier this summer, reported.

Davis is best known for his paintings of African Americans that have a dreamy, unreal quality to them, despite their muted color palettes and touches of realist detail.

Although some of the figures that Davis painted were black, he didn’t consider his works political. “If I’m making any statement,” he told ‘Dazed’ in 2010, “it’s to just show black people in normal scenarios, where drugs and guns are nothing to do with it.” Davis instead chose to describe his works as “instances where black aesthetics and modernist aesthetics collide.”

In 2012, for a show at James Harris Gallery, in Seattle, Davis did a series of paintings about reality television, titled “Savage Wilds.” The works, like many others by Davis, play on the division, or lack thereof, between life and art, and between true personalities and performed ones.


Davis’s inspirations ranged from figural style American painter Leon Golub to Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘The Trouble with Harry.’ Many of Davis’s diverse references can be traced to his time working at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA LA) bookstore after he left New York City. “I left school because it wasn’t teaching me anything,” Davis said of his time at Cooper Union, where he studied between 2001 and 2004. His time working at the museum brought him into art history of all kinds.

Davis founded the Underground Museum in 2012. The nonprofit space, in Los Angeles’s Arlington Heights, became a notable cultural center. Along with his brother, the noted film maker and video artist Kahlil Joseph, the center allowed for shows and film screenings, and has a garden and a library.

Davis had several shows there and had plans to curate several more over the coming years. In 2013, he created ‘Imitation of Wealth’, an installation in which he redid work by blue-chip artists, usually with low-cost materials.

The Underground Museum was recently the subject of the inaugural show at the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s University Gallery (BHQFUG), in New York. That exhibition looked at the way that the museum could be considered a work unto itself—how Davis’s space was just as much a way of mediating between life and art as any of his paintings, sculptures, or installations.