Noah Purifoy

American  •  1917-2004

Biography

 The first African American full-time student to enroll in Chouinard Art Institute, Purifoy was a social worker, teacher and assemblage artist whose remarkable legacy is only beginning to be fully understood, due in part to his 2015 retrospective at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

A key figure in the California assemblage movement in the 1960s and 1970s, Purifoy was a founding director of the Watts Towers Arts Center. In art as in life, he pursued his fervent belief in “art as a tool for change”. Inspired by Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, an outdoor installation created from scrap metal and found objects, and the charred debris of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, Purifoy pursued a Duchampian approach to art making that profoundly impacted artists such as David Hammons, John Outterbridge and Senga Nengudi.

After eleven years of public policy work for the California Arts Council, where Purifoy initiated programs such as Artists in Social Institutions to bring art into the state prison system, the artist moved to the southern Mojave Desert in the late 1980s. Over the course of the last fifteen years of his life, Purifoy created what is now the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Sculpture Museum, which contains large scale assemblages, sculptures and installations.

Insights

  • Selected public collections: Museum of Modern Art, New York; Smithsonian Archives of American Art; University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

“I do not wish to be an artist, I only wish that art enables me to be.”

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