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First solo museum exhibition by artist D-L Alvarez explores horror and the national psyche
D-L Alvarez: The Closet #14, 2006–07; graphite on paper; 17 ½ x 21 ¼ in. each; courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery, New York.
BERKELEY, CA.- The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents D-L Alvarez / MATRIX 243. D-L Alvarez’s first solo museum exhibition is a haunting meditation on the violent end of innocence. Drawing on iconic imagery from Hollywood horror films, Alvarez, an Oakland-based artist, focuses on the uncanny moments when social and domestic deviance collide.

For many, the utopian experiment of the 1960s ended with the Manson Family murders. The decade of countercultural idealism had found its nemesis, and Americans grew wary of social outliers. Horror films featuring grotesque Manson-like transgressions supplanted the more nuanced Hitchcockesque thrillers of the sixties. Likewise, television studios began to abandon tried-and-true sitcoms that offered harmonious caricatures of the American family in favor of more progressive depictions of a less stable family unit.

In Alvarez’s series The Closet (2006–07), we see an abstracted image of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween, attempting to fight off a masked psychopath. Expressions of terror like this one, and other scenes like it, begin to dissolve in Alvarez’s heavily abstracted graphite compositions. Alvarez’s use of pixilation suggests some kind of electronic interference or degraded technology. His technique masks the features of both victim and killer but, more importantly, extends to the surface of the screen itself. The screen, a fixture in the contemporary home, becomes the new closet of terror.

The Closet is paired with Something to Cry About (I and II) (2007), patchwork bodysuits made of children’s clothing arranged over wooden armatures. They resemble children’s footed pajamas, but are draped ominously to evoke the grisly costumes that psychopath Ed Gein fashioned out of corpses’ skins. Gein was the model for cinematic murderers such as Norman Bates in Psycho and Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and both characters mimic the actual serial killer’s chilling methods and psychology.

Together, Alvarez’s fabric works and drawings recall the transgressive experience of watching horror movies as a child and the social and domestic unease in the wake of the Manson Family murders. In both works, Alvarez points to the aesthetic guises that conceal us from greater horrors.

D-L Alvarez lives and works in Oakland. He has had participated in exhibitions at the Drawing Center, New York; DePaul University Art Museum, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Participant Inc., New York; Schwules Museum, Berlin; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. He has also created performative installations for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Highways, Los Angeles; and The Lab, San Francisco.

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