Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada at LACMA

By | 10:30 PM 2 comments

Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada is a new exhibit featured at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (commonly known as LACMA). The exhibit is located in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and includes installations, paintings and sculptures created by the titular artist. Much of the artwork was produced from the 1960s to the early 2000s. 

According to curator notes of the exhibit, Purifoy was an American visual artist and sculptor who sought to “[make] something out of nothing.” Research reveals Purifoy earned undergraduate and graduate degrees before he received a BFA from Chouinard Art Institute (known today as CalArts) at the age of 39. Purifoy’s exhibit profile suggests his training at Chouinard helped him realize the connection between his artistic philosophy and the Surrealist and Dadaist movements in art history. 

The exhibit’s profile on Purifoy also notes his interest in urban life and its inhabitants. This intrigue is claimed to have spurred his desire to take the “junk” of the urban to create assemblage sculptures reflective of urban experience. With an emphasis on African American urban experience, Purifoy appears to highlight the socioeconomic disparity within African American urban communities. According to the curator notes of the exhibit, this intentional artistic mimesis is meant to bring awareness to the need for change and display art’s power to potentially effect such a change. 

My Impressions 
I was foremost inspired by Purifoy’s drive as I learned he followed his dream and passions of being an artist at a later stage in life. The fact Purifoy graduated from Chouinard just before his fortieth birthday emphasizes how our dreams have no expiration date. Purifoy further exemplifies this as he began creating his most widely known artwork in his forties and founded his internationally recognized Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum in his seventies. 

As a 29 year-old aspiring writer who will begin his pursuit of a MFA in screenwriting at the age of 30, I am encouraged to continually follow my passion of creating narratives that are significant, investigative and authentic. As long as I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my stomach and my bills under control why not pursue a career in which I can find personal fulfillment. 

Regarding Purifoy’s artwork, some of the pieces that stood out in particular include Black, Brown, and Beige (After Duke Ellington), Zulu, No Contest (Bicycles), and A Book Flown

Noah Purifoy, Black, Brown and Beige (After Duke Ellington), 1989, Collection of Sue A. Welsh 
Black, Brown, and Beige (After Duke Ellington) is a reference to Ellington’s background as a jazz musician. An exhibit note on Purifoy’s references to pop culture suggests the ten-foot wide triptych conjures allusions to the Jazz music cultivated in African American urban culture. The curator’s note indicates the jagged wood slabs evoke fingers playing the piano. I interpret the musical influence of the piece as a direct reference to the cultivated Jazz scene of Los Angeles nurtured on Central Avenue. RJ Smith’s The Great Black Way (2006) details the history of this musical culture, including Ellington’s part in the history of Jazz music crafted in the segregated African American communities of Los Angeles. 

Noah Purifoy, Zulu, 1989, Collection of Kealan Thomas Estrada 
Zulu is a serene installation piece and remarkably portrays the cultural aesthetic of the Zulu tribe of southern Africa. Purifoy’s creation of the piece follows the release of the South African miniseries Shaka Zulu (1986) directed by William C. Faure. The miniseries tells the story of the South African Zulu king Shaka as he struggles and interacts with British traders and colonialist. I believe Purifoy’s Zulu highlights the regality and beauty of the Zulu culture, and greatly contrasts the persistent barbaric and savage interpretation of these people presented in Faure’s panned interpretation. The minimalism and softness of Purifoy’s artwork arguably reasserts the humanity of the Zulu people believed to be stripped away in Faure’s adaptation. 

Noah Purifoy, No Contest (Bicycles), 1991 
This giant installation piece is particularly striking. It is authentically rural in its design and seems to recall Purifoy’s southern origins from Alabama. My impression of the piece is that Purifoy suggests his time in Joshua Tree, California gives him an artistic fulfillment that holds no contest to his time crafting his artwork while living in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. It is in the rural Purifoy constructs his Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum, where he spends the remainder of his life creating art and in much grander scales than ever before. 

Noah Purifoy, A Book Flown (Desert Tombstone Series), 1995 
One of the final pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed was A Book Flown, a sculpture in which a countless number of frayed books are crammed into a metal tombstone. The sculpture is thought provoking on its own, but when paired with the Purifoy poem of the same name it evokes a contemplated meaning of both personal and cultural interpretation. 

Noah Purifoy, "A Book Flown", poem promoting 66 Signs of Neon (1966) 
Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada is on display at LACMA from June 7, 2015 to September 27, 2015

Museum Information 
Los Angeles County Museum of Art | LACMA 

5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036 
(323) 857-6000 

Parking Fee is $12 

Entrance Fee: 
• $15 for General Admission 
• $10 with Student Discount 
• $10 for Seniors (62+) 
• Children Free (17 and under) 
• Members Free 
• Free for Bank of America Customers the first weekend of every month 

Hours of Operation: 
• Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11 am–5 pm 
• Friday: 11 am–8 pm 
• Saturday, Sunday: 10 am–7 pm 
Wednesdays Closed

What are your thoughts on Noah Purifoy's Junk Dada? Are you familiar with his work or new to it? Sound off in the comments section below!

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  1. Hi, I really enjoyed reading this piece and your interpretations were really well rounded. I do share some of your thoughts on the pieces being musical symbols with relation to the Jazz Age of Los Angeles. I was not aware of Purifoy's work before going but I'm not new to Junk Dada and I think this type of artistic work should be analyzed more within Humanities. Overall, loved this informative piece., Androgynine Life - Lifestyle Blogger

  2. Thanks for your feedback Sonja! I appreciate the support!