Night Gallery is pleased to announce The Performance of Being, an exhibition of new oil paintings by multidisciplinary artist Marcel Alcalá. This is their second show with the gallery, following their 2021 solo presentation Solita.
Alcalá’s canvases feature a vibrant mélange of references to Los Angeles landmarks, art history, and the artist’s own Mexican-American heritage and queer community. Their “main characters” range from a drag queen to a dominatrix, a lone coyote roving a twilit landscape to a skull situated in an Orange County mall. Colorful brushstrokes evoke psychedelic or spiritual landscapes. The artist unites the aesthetics of Santería, Catholicism, and drag in an attempt at transcendence, viewing painting as a performance that can take both maker and audience beyond the limits of the body, religion, the past, and “reality”... whatever that may be.
In Duality of Story (2023), Alcalá paints a screenwriter friend who stands between two doorways: one leading to the California wilderness and the other to Jumbo’s Clown Room, a legendary Hollywood strip club. At the figure’s feet lay Save the Cat (a canonical screenwriting book) and a Bank of America bill. The artist describes their friend as both masculine and feminine, bound perhaps by the three-act structure and credit card payments, yet still able to define themselves and choose their own adventure.
Alcalá, a former clown performer themselves, unites comedy with darkness throughout the canvases. Their “girlies,” or figures with simple smiley faces, appear across the show. Through painting, Alcalá transforms the Catholicism of their childhood, and its attendant shame, into a site of self-invention and camp: Presence of Mind (2023) features a golden Boyle Heights gazebo topped with a crucifix (a structure common to Mexican pueblos), set against a bubblegum pink sky. A figure wearing an intricately adorned cape, who’s based on a queer wrestler the artist knows, stands on the stairs, hands at their hips as they strike a pose. The religious and architectural symbology simply serve as a stage.
Two paintings suggest the cyclical nature of the show. My Abuelas Cactus (2023) culls memories from the artist’s childhood. Their grandmother’s cactus appears against the thin, colorful paper decorations made and hung during Día de los Muertos and the “ferias” that celebrate certain pueblos. A fetus floats in front of these signifiers, blue and red die indicating the sense of chance that will shape its life. The Performance of Being (2023) takes compositional inspiration from El Greco’s 1586 Burial of Count Orgaz, conveying a sense of drama at majestic scale. The painting features the artist playing dead, or at least entranced in a state of otherness, surrounded by their mother and closest friends, who offer their care. Amid all of Alcalá’s bright masks and theatricality, this sense of compassion and community is especially meaningful, and quite real.
Marcel Alcalá (b. 1990, Santa Ana, CA) has had solo exhibitions at Night Gallery, Los Angeles; Mickey Gallery, Chicago; and Deli Gallery, Brooklyn. Their work has been featured in group shows at Lyles & King, New York; Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles; Ballroom Marfa, TX; Simon Lee Gallery, New York; and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, among others. Alcalá has exhibited in numerous museums and institutions, including Tom of Finland Foundation, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and MCA Chicago, IL. Their work has been written about in LA Weekly, Hyperallergic, and Flaunt, among others. They have been an artist-in-residence at Skowhegan (2022) and Tom of Finland Foundation, Los Angeles (2020). Alcalá lives and works in Los Angeles.