Critics’ Picks

Noah Davis, Untitled, 2014, mixed media on paper, 8 x 5''. From the series “Seventy Works,” 2014.

Noah Davis, Untitled, 2014, mixed media on paper, 8 x 5''. From the series “Seventy Works,” 2014.


Noah Davis and Kahlil Joseph

Frye Art Museum
704 Terry Avenue
April 16–June 19, 2016

Filiation and legacy both symbolic and tangible are pervasive in “Young Blood,” a title derived from a greeting Kahlil Joseph used for his late younger brother, Noah Davis. The exhibition of the two siblings’ work is a rigorous yet tender examination of their individual practices. Not a retrospective, it is rather an intimate tribute, curated by their longtime friend and Seattle-based artist Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, that reveals the interconnectivity and shared experiences of the two artists.

At the heart of their practices is the depiction of humans: Sharing concise visual vocabularies, Joseph and Davis both convey the imaginative worlds of their subjects. Their overlapping interests in the lives of others and in communities, mythologies, and histories are unequivocal and embedded throughout. In 1984, 2009, Davis represents his wife, artist Karon Davis, as a child dressed for Halloween, a powerful image that calls out to our collective consciousness. Convergences between each other’s mediums are revealed, such as the cinematic sensibilities in Davis’s paintings and Joseph’s painterly approach to film. In Alice™ (you don’t have to think about it), 2015, Joseph films the singer Alice Smith at close range and using a strong chiaroscuro. Sounding at times like an incantation, the film instills the entire exhibition with a ritualistic tone, amplifying its overall sacral ambiance.

A homage to the artists’ family and their political and community engagement unfolds in the exhibition’s collaborative work, The Sacred Garden, 2016, an ephemeral extension of the Purple Garden installed at the Underground Museum, Los Angeles, in 2012. Photos of father Keven Davis (1958–2011) and son Noah Davis (1983–2015), Senufo statues, Mbete figures, and crystals, “inhabit” the garden with their ashes. The scene invites contemplation and reverence while evoking a grave. The strength of this show lies as much in its sense of fraternity as in the profound meditative experience that it induces.