Afro-American Artist : focus on Noah Davis (1983-2015)

[18 May 2021]

Noah Davis Is Gone, His Paintings Continue to Hypnotize declared Roberta Smith in the New York Times in February 2020, her article enthusiastically celebrating David Zwirner’s New York exhibition of Davis’s work five years after the artist’s untimely death from a rare form of cancer at the age of 32 . If Davis’s works had already won over American critics and major collectors, they have since become one of the most coveted commodities on the art market. And it is looking like the early stages of a magnificent ascension…

A gifted child, Noah DAVIS committed to painting at the age of 17 and began to build a reputation for himself in his early twenties. After attending the Cooper Union School of Art in New York, he moved to Los Angeles where he attracted the attention of gallery owner Bennett Roberts (Roberts & Tilton) whose promotional work resulted in acquisitions by several institutional and private collections, including the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

By the time Davis died in 2015, he had already accomplished a great deal both in terms of painting and in terms of a highly ambitious dream: in 2013, along with members of his family and friends, he opened an ‘alternative’ museum in Los Angeles’ notoriously run-down Pueblo del Rio neighborhood. The Underground Museum is still active today and meanwhile, Davis’s sensitive and cultivated painting has become a milestone in “New black painting”.

The youngest of the “30 Americans”

Noah Davis was 25 when the Rubell family – who had already acquired eight of his works – put together the exhibition 30 Americans, devoted to the most important African-American artists of the last three decades in their private museum in Miami. It was early December 2008, the day after the opening of Art Basel Miami. International collectors in town for the fair flocked to the Rubell show built around racial, sexual and historical identity in contemporary culture.

Paintings by the young Noah Davis rubbed shoulders with works by Kehinde WILEY, Kerry James MARSHALL, Glenn LIGON and Jean-Michel BASQUIAT. Twelve years later, 30 Americans is still continuing its journey across the United States having been to Washington, Nashville, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tacoma… to date around twenty institutions have hosted this show, whose critical reception and influence on the desires of collectors should not be underestimated.

The Zwirner effect

In early 2020, five years after Davis’s death, when the powerful gallery owner David Zwirner dedicated an exhibition to this “mad genius”, it had already become very difficult to obtain a work by Noah Davis. This was because he was already considered an ‘essential’ artist and because he left behind no more than approximately 400 works.

Auction market demand was already tightening a few weeks before the Zwirner show when one of Davis’s early buyers consigned Single Mother with Father out of the Picture to Phillips. Acquired from the Roberts & Tilton gallery in Los Angeles it was estimated $40,000 – 60,000, but fetched $170,000 in November 2019. However… after the Zwirner show, Davis’s prices rose to another level: on 4 March 2020, In Search of Gallerius Maximumianus set a record at $400,000 (again at Phillips), at five times its high estimate.

Even if tempted to resell in order to secure substantial capital gains, the lucky ones who acquired a Davis painting during his early exhibitions should keep their treasures a few more years. It is clear today that Davis is perfectly positioned to play a key role in a future art market currently undergoing major changes. In all likelihood, his works, which are rare, well supported (Zwirner, etc.) and very much in-demand, are still in the early stages of their secondary market value ascension.


Published in Diptyk magazine