b. 1958, Toronto
Moyra Davey was born in Toronto in 1958. She earned a BFA from Concordia University, Montreal, in 1982, and an MFA from the University of California San Diego in 1988. In 1989, she attended the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Davey’s work initially featured documentary photographs of her family and friends, and later came to focus on the quiet, overlooked details of daily life: coins, kitchen shelves, and clumps of dust gathered along the floor. Depicting outsize close-ups of the fronts of worn pennies, Davey’s Copperhead series (1990), emphasizes the circulation of banal, everyday objects individuated by the accumulation of human touch. In the mid-2000s, the moving image took on a renewed prominence in Davey’s work. Inspired by her deep interest in the process of reading and writing, the artist’s essayistic video practice layers personal narrative with detailed explorations of the texts and lives of authors and thinkers she admires, such as Walter Benjamin, Jean Genet, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Davey’s own writing is central to her videos. The transcript of Fifty Minutes (2006), in which the artist reflects on her years in psychoanalysis, was published as a personal essay in the artist book Long Life Cool White: Photographs and Essays by Moyra Davey (2008), and her text “The Wet and the Dry” formed the basis of the narration of Les Goddesses (2011).
In 2009, while on a residency in Paris, Davey folded one of her photographs and mailed it to her New York gallery for inclusion in a group show as a way to circumvent the logistics of transport. This gesture became the basis for her “mailer” works, such as Of Jane (Willow) (2014), in which photographic prints are folded up, taped at the edges, stamped, addressed, and put in the mail, accumulating on their surfaces the attendant marks of their travel through the postal system. The sixteen photographs that comprise the mailer work Trust Me (2011) were sent to writer Lynne Tillman, each image pasted with a fragment of text from Tillman’s novel American Genius, A Comedy (2006).
Davey has had solo exhibitions at Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2008); Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2010); Tate Liverpool (2013); Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2014); and Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (2014), among other venues. Her work has been featured in group exhibitions such as Bottle: Contemporary Art and Vernacular Tradition, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2004); Photography on Photography: Reflections on the Medium since 1960, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008); Atlas: How to carry the world on one’s back?, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2010); Whitney Biennial, New York (2012); and Photo-Poetics: An Anthology, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2015). She currently lives and works in New York.