When I visited Company Gallery on a brisk February evening, a somber ballad by Venezuelan producer Arca greeted me upon entry. Emanating from speakers at the back of the gallery, its ambience suited the mood of De Por Vida, a meditative group exhibition dedicated to queer desire in the Latin American diaspora. One particular verse stands out:

No queda nada (Nothing remains)

No queda ni un rincón (Not a corner left)

En que no haya penetrado tu calor (That your heat has not penetrated)

Alina Perez, “Dreamsicle” (2020). Charcoal and pastel on paper, 72 x 50 inches

Heat and penetration are central motifs of this show, evident in works ranging from erotic paintings and collages to shapely sculptures and even a strap-on fashioned from a prolonged tape measure. Its title, the Spanish phrase “for life,” carries a double entendre: a celebration of existence and eternal devotion. Language is one of many methods of deconstruction employed by curator Ken Castaneda. Even the press release elides concrete details, instead describing his metaphysical relationship to family and ambition.

Gender and sexuality are likewise fluid in form and character for the show’s 13 artists. Cutouts of half-nude models and Mayan figurines merge in Felipe Baeza’s photo-collages. Muscle definition shifts seamlessly into molded clay, revealing ageless beauty. Alina Perez’s “Dreamsicle” (2020) occupies the opposite wall, flanked by windows looking out across Lower Manhattan. Two lovers embrace in a dark bedroom. One holds a glowing orange vibrator against the other, who clenches sheets in one hand, evoking orgasm and anguish. 

Sergio Miguel, “Loba Mestiza” (2019), oil on canvas, 70.87 x 59.06 inches

Such erotic confrontation abounds. From the hallway leading into the gallery, a young dominatrix stares down visitors from Sergio Miguel’s “Loba Mestiza” (2019), with one hand on her hip and the other wielding a gold chain. Her high-femme demeanor is accentuated by a tight black dress, gold-framed glasses, and heels. At her feet, a white man crouches on all fours wearing nothing but white socks, his scrotum hanging clumsily between his legs. The composition subverts the visual language of casta paintings — an 18th-century Spanish colonial tradition that perpetuated racist myths and classifications in Mexico — and the scene unfolds beneath a gold plaque bearing its title, which translates to “half-breed wolf.” 

In the center of the gallery, two bulky pieces of Diana Lozano’s sculpture, “Palingenesis” (2020), trail neon paint onto the floor like snails in motion. One of their tendrils holds a mirror to clay text adhered backwards on the wall: “profundo sentimiento, admiracion y extasis” (deep feeling, admiration and ecstasy), from a book on orchids written by the artist’s father. In this phase between outbreak and inoculation, it’s easy to feel trapped by imminent mortality and frustrated passion. Castaneda invites us to exist in the intermediary for a moment, and wait for this tension to release.

Installation view of De Por Vida, Company Gallery, 2021

De Por Vida continues through February 27 at Company Gallery (88 Eldridge Street, 5th Floor, Lower East Side, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Ken Castaneda.

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.