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Noah Davis at the Underground Museum


Before his untimely passing in 2015, artist Noah Davis and his wife Karon Davis co-founded the Underground Museum (UM), a revered art and community space in Arlington Heights. In a kind of homecoming, a solo show by Noah Davis is now on view at the museum, after having traveled to the New York and London outposts of the gallery David Zwirner. 

The exhibition, which also marks the reopening of the UM after being closed throughout the pandemic, was curated by Helen Molesworth, who curated the previous two iterations, as well as Justen Leroy, an artist and former UM employee. The artwork in the exhibition is a primer on Davis’ work (he left behind 400 art objects), but doesn’t give everything away — Molesworth had said that she wanted to show the breadth of Davis’ oeuvre, but not curate such a comprehensive exhibition that there wouldn’t be a show in the future. 

The paintings, most of which delve into idiosyncratic figuration, keep you on your toes. Just when you think you’ve pegged Davis’ style or subject matter, he throws you a curveball. One of the paintings on view is based on a candid photograph that Davis’ mother took in Chicago, and in others, Davis mimics a similar documentary style and adds in surreal flourishes (see: the phantom piano player added to an otherwise straightforward streetscape in 2014’s Pueblo Del Rio: Concierto). 

Man with Alien and Shotgun (2008) leans into sci-fi subject matter, with a wiry figure holding a shotgun in one hand and a limp alien carcass in the other. Around the corner, a sensitive and small portrait of Davis’ son Moses climbing out of the kitchen sink after a bath grounds the more imaginative paintings in a physical domesticity. Rather than feeling disruptive, it pulls you into Davis’ world, one ripe with possibility and imagination as much as familial warmth and sincerity.

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Photo: Noah Davis (installation view) (2022). Image courtesy of the Underground Museum. Photo: Elon Schoenholz Photography.