The Underground Museum: Continuing the Legacy

DEC16UN1Editors Note: The Neighborhood News has written several articles about our local treasure The Underground Museum (3508 W. Washington Blvd, just west of Arlington). It offers an art gallery, library, store, event space, and a garden (the "Purple Garden") which includes a cinema space for film screening as well as an outdoor sanctuary filled with sculptures and lavender flowers. All open to the public.

The Museum was founded by the nationally recognized artist Noah Davis. Known for his figurative paintings about African American life, his works have appeared in the collections of San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts (MOMA), the Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art (LACMA).  In 2013, he was the recipient of LACMA’s 2013 Art Here and Now (AHAN) award. Noah was committed to bringing art to underserved communities and our community lucked out. 

Unfortunately our last article about the museum focused on the untimely demise of its founder Noah who died in 2015 at the age of 32 after a long struggle with cancer.  We decided to go back to the museum to see how it was fairing. TNN reporter Sandra Sims interviewed his wife and partner Karon Davis who is committed to carrying on the legacy of her husband.

"Noah wanted to provide a safe, sacred space in the community and also show people that they are entitled to see beauty.  Everyone should have access to beauty around them.  Noah would create a show and open up the doors and let people in.”   Karon Davis reflected that after the death of her husband, the transition was “painful and difficult,” but with the support of her “village” the Underground Museum has been able to make upgrades to both the art gallery and the Purple Garden.  Her “village” consists of staff, the Board, and the community.   Insisting that her husband did not allow his illness to slow him down, she stated that before his passing, he left a “blueprint” for 18 future show/exhibits and approached MOCA, which resulted in a partnership between both museums.   

The partnership between the Underground Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA) allows for works from MOCA’s collection to be featured in the Underground Museum’s gallery.  Davis explained that her husband approached MOCA regarding this venture after MOCA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth visited the Underground Museum and viewed “m.A.A.d city,” a short film by Noah Davis’ brother Kahlil Joseph about Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album.  According to Karon Davis, a few months after Molesworth's visit to the Underground Museum, MOCA featured Kahlil Joseph’s “m.A.A.d city.”  

She went on to explain that MOCA's continued  commitment to carry out Noah Davis’ mission allows for her and Kahlil Joseph to have artistic freedom.  “MOCA is very supportive and has given us the lead with shows and how we want to present them," said Davis, “They [MOCA] are like family.”   She explained that Noah Davis’ blueprint of 18 shows includes MOCA exhibits as well as their own shows.

Currently, the Underground Museum is showcasing an exhibit entitled “Non-Fiction.”  The Non-Fiction exhibit runs from March 2016 to March 2017 and is the second in a series of exhibitions conceived and arranged by Noah Davis.  Non-Fiction is described as “Noah’s love letter to the victims of racial violence.”  The exhibit does not include plaques with lengthy explanations of the work; rather the viewers are free to make their own interpretations of the pieces.  Featured artists’ include Theaster Gates, Robert Gober, David Hammons, Deanna Lawson, Kerry James Marshall, Marion Palfi, Henry Taylor, and Kara Walker. “This show in particular is so timely," Karon explained. "When people come into the show they are moved. I’m so honored to be a part of it.”  

Another thought-provoking addition to the art gallery are two signs on the bathrooms, one stating “Whites Only” and the other “Colored Only.”  Davis stated, “It’s an interesting social experience. It makes people think.  How does it feel to be excluded?”  

The Underground Museum’s next exhibit will be entitled “Artists in Color.”  According to  Davis, this will be an exploration of artwork in color.  

The Underground Museum has established other prominent partnerships including one with the Martin Scorsese Film Foundation.   “They have opened their vaults [of films] to us.”  This partnership includes the outdoor screening of films in the Purple Garden.  The series will present both classics and films by experimental artists and are free and open to the public.  

The Purple Garden will also be the home of the Wellness program that Noah Davis envisioned for the Underground Museum.  Davis explained that the wellness program will make the connection between art and health by offering programs including yoga, meditation, and dance. “The Purple Garden is our Utopia, a healing space.”  

The Underground Museum will also provide educational programs for the community.  One of those efforts is the Underground Academy.  Currently, the Underground Museum hosts a program for community children entitled “Becoming Your Own Superhero.”  According to Davis, the program blends art with history by incorporating black history with fun activities such as the creation of costumes.  

With future educational programs which include a partnership with UCLA Thelonious Monk Institute, Karon Davis is indeed continuing the legacy of her late husband. As she explains, "It’s about making connections with the neighborhood.”  

The museum and Purple Garden is open and free to the public Wednesday to Sunday, 12 pm - 7 pm and located at 3508 W. Washington Blvd 90018 (west of Arlington, just past Natriliart on the south side) (323) 989-9925

For more information about programs, go to:


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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