Karon Davis is a sculptor, installation, and video artist. She serves as president of the Underground Museum, which she co-founded in 2012 with her late husband, artist Noah Davis. The Underground Museum, in partnership with Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, brings art to L.A.’s working-class neighborhood of Arlington Heights.
In 2015, Noah Davis, a rising Los Angeles artist whose work had been acquired by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L.A.’s MOCA, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, died at age 32 from a rare form of cancer. His death left a void in the art community and in Davis’s life.
Davis grew up in Manhattan and New Jersey, the daughter of actor Ben Vereen. She attended U.S.C. film school and was doing freelance film work when she met Noah Davis in 2005. He helped her develop a cross-medium visual art practice. She showed her video work in a 2009 group show in L.A., and in 2013 she debuted her first solo exhibition at the Underground Museum.
Her first solo gallery show was her sculptural installation “Pain Management” at L.A.’s Wilding Cran Gallery. This exhibition recreated a hospital waiting room, complete with canned music, abstract prints, US Weekly magazines, and floral tissue boxes. Her figurative sculptures were white plaster casts made with the couple’s shredded medical bills.
Five dreamy and haunting sculptures, “Children of the Moon,” modeled after real children in the neighborhood, anchored the show in the main exhibition space. Each child was named after a saint from a different religion. The sculptures were delicate but also rough. While the dresses of the girls seemed soft and flowing, their skulls were only partially sculpted.
One of the child sculptures “Gabriel” showed a boy clutching purple flowers. It was based on an image from Noah’s painting “Green behind the Ears.” Another of her sculptures “Mikail” was taken from the last work Noah made, an untitled painting of a man lying in the grass. The children were watched over by sculptures of three nurses dressed in scrubs, named after drugs that treat pain and anxiety.
In the center of the room was an 8-foot-tall tissue box called “Cry, Baby.” “There’s no tissue box large enough for my tears,” Davis says. She adorned the outside of the box with Noah’s trademark paint drippings and her own style of ripped and torn plaster. This installation, an ode to grief, “represents us and our sadness . . . . Noah’s everywhere in here. This show’s for him.”
Her “Mawu” sculpture from the Pain Management show was part of the POWER survey of 37 African American female artists at Los Angeles’ Spruth Magers Gallery in 2017. She received the biennial grant from The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and her “Nicotine” nurse, one of the three nurses from Pain Management, was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum.