The Underground Museum in Los Angeles Has Awarded Three Curators $25,000 Each With Its Inaugural Noah Davis Prize

The museum announced plans to reopen with a show dedicated to its late founder.

Candice Hopkins, Thomas Jean Lax, and Jamillah James. Photo of Lax by Lola Flash; photo of James by Paul Sepuya.

Los Angeles’s Underground Museum and the Chanel Culture Fund have launched a new award for curators in honor of the museum’s late co-founder, artist and curator Noah Davis.

The inaugural recipients of the $25,000 award are independent curator Candice Hopkins; Jamillah James, senior curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Thomas Jean Lax, curator of media and performance at the the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

“The Underground Museum is more than a building—it’s a way of approaching the world. 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,” the museum’s co-founder and Davis’s widow, artist Karon Davis, said in a statement. “In so doing, we hope to create a beacon for others who embrace our values to create change in the art world.”

Since its opening in 2012, the Underground Museum has served as a free community space in Los Angeles’s Arlington Heights neighborhood, turning four vacant storefronts into a world-class museum that has hosted exhibitions featuring the likes of Catherine Opie, Deanna Lawson, and Kara Walker, among other artists.

Noah Davis. Photo by Ed Templeton, courtesy of the Underground Museum.

Noah Davis. Photo by
Ed Templeton, courtesy of the Underground Museum.

When Davis died of cancer at the age of just 32 in 2015, he left behind plans for 18 unrealized exhibitions, four of which have since been staged at the museum. The award in his name looks to recognize curators who are following his example of bringing culture to new audiences and helping transform the museum field.

“Part of Noah Davis’s genius was his generosity,” curator Helen Molesworth said in a statement. “As an artist-curator he focused on the profound power of art objects to generate ideas and feelings, which in turn could be used as catalysts for dialogue, love, friendship, and community. The work of all three of the curators we are recognizing with this award embody and extend these values.”

The jury that selected the award’s first recipients included the New Yorker’s Hilton Als, LACMA’s Christine Y. Kim, and curator Lowery Stokes Sims.

Melissa Cody, <i>World Traveler</i> (2014). Collection of the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas. Courtesy of the artist.

Melissa Cody, World Traveler (2014). Collection of the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas. Courtesy of the artist.

Each of the winners were honored for a particular curatorial project.

Hopkins was recognized for her work illuminating the rise of Indigenous contemporary art in “Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now” at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (2018–19). James was singled out for examining the ways in which artists blur the lines between abstraction and figuration in “A Shape That Stands Up” at Art and Practice in Los Angeles (2016). And Lax got the award for MoMA’s “Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done” (2018), about the artist community at the titular Greenwich Village church from 1962 to 1964.

The Underground Museum, which has been closed since March 2020, plans to reopen in January 2022 with an exhibition of Davis’s work curated by Molesworth.

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