When Noah Davis died of cancer at age 32, in 2015, the visionary artist and curator left behind plans for 18 unrealized exhibitions at the Underground Museum, which he founded with his wife, Karon, in Los Angeles three years prior. The museum has since become a world-class institution—a community incubator and vitalizing force that showcases work by vanguard Black artists such as Kahlil Joseph, Arthur Jafa, and Deana Lawson, among others. Now, the museum is teaming up with the Chanel Culture Fund to launch an award in Davis’s name that recognizes curators following in his footsteps of transforming the museum field by creating space for others, eschewing art-world hierarchies, and bringing culture to new audiences.
The inaugural recipients include independent curator Candice Hopkins, ICA LA senior curator Jamillah James, and MoMA curator of media and performance Thomas Jean Lax, who will each receive $25,000 in recognition of a recent and impactful curatorial project. “The Underground Museum is more than a building—it’s a way of approaching the world,” Karon Davis says. “With the Noah Davis Prize, we have the opportunity to extend the philosophy of the Underground Museum beyond its walls, and to honor a community of peers who represent Noah’s legacy of generosity. We hope to create a beacon for others who embrace our values to create changes in the art world.”
When the Underground Museum reopens after nearly two years of shutdowns, in January, it will present a long-awaited exhibition of Davis’s paintings curated by Helen Molesworth. She also helped organize a landmark exhibition of his works at David Zwirner New York, which established him as one of the era’s signal figurative painters and a once-in-a-generation colorist whose output across paintings, drawing, and sculptures channel scenes of Black life in the United States. In the spring, the museum will also present a curatorial symposium featuring the Noah Davis Prize recipients organized by the Chanel Culture Fund.