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David Medalla

David Cortez Medalla (1938-2020) was a pioneering figure in kinetic, participatory and live art. His practice was diverse: he produced sculpture, installations, paintings, drawings, impromptu events and performances. Medalla was an artistic nomad, a political activist, an artist who brought people together, and a true ‘citizen of the world’.

Medalla was born in Manila in the Philippines and by the age of 12 was regarded as an intellectual prodigy. In 1954, he was admitted to Columbia University in New York as a special student. After returning to Manila in 1955, Medalla later moved to Paris before he based himself in England on and off from the early 1960s. In London, Medalla co-founded the avant-garde SIGNALS gallery (1964-66), focused around experimental and kinetic art – including his own kinetic works such as his Bubble Machines/Cloud Canyons – and edited the gallery’s SIGNALS Newsbulletin. After SIGNALS closed, Medalla initiated the experimental dance drama group, the Exploding Galaxy (1967-68) and his Buddha Ballet was performed at the Roundhouse and on Parliament Hill.

In the late 1960s, Medalla travelled extensively in Asia with American artist, John Dugger, before moving again to Paris. Back in London in the 1970s, Medalla became a lecturer at the Slade School of Art, UCL; St Martins School of Art; Chelsea School of Art; and Goldsmiths College of Art. With John Dugger and others, he co-founded the artist collective the Artists Liberation Front (1972-74). Together with Cecilia Vicuña, John Dugger and Guy Brett, he co-founded another organization, Artists for Democracy (1974-77) which led to the Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile at the Royal College of Art in 1974. After the Festival, with collaborators from AFD, Medalla squatted a building in Fitzrovia that became an unorthodox art gallery and cultural centre that maintained a progressive political and artistic agenda until it closed in late 1977.

In 1994, he formed the Mondrian Fan Club in New York with Adam Nankervis. In 1998, Medalla launched the London Biennale, a participatory festival of the arts that he described as ‘a do-it-yourself art biennale … that would be open to every artist regardless of age, sex, ethnic origin, and artistic language or style’. He lectured widely at universities, art schools and institutions, including a series of lectures on global culture at MOMA, New York.. In later life he spent time in Brazil, lived between England and Berlin, before staying in Manila, where he died in 2020.

Medalla’s work has been exhibited in significant exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide, including Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Whitechapel, ICA and Hayward galleries in London; and in the USA, Japan, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Mexico and the Philippines. David Medalla: Parables of Friendship was a major survey of his work at Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, and at the Museion, Bolzano (2021-22).

England & Co exhibitions including works by David Medalla: Constellation (2009); Beneath the Radar in 1970s London at England & Co (2010); The Exploding Galaxy/99 Balls Pond Road (2014) and Signals 1964-1966 (2014); Artists for Democracy 1974-1977 (2023); Artists for Democracy (1974-1977): Revisited (2024).

Drawings & works on paper   Prints   


Poem Painting for Eskimo Carver - Details

Poem Painting for Eskimo Carver 1977
320 x 142 cm
This large scroll painting was made for the participatory installation Eskimo Carver at AFD in 1977.
Black ink, paint on a found lightweight synthetic fabric with silver surface.