It’s not an official designation of any kind, but the first week of February happened to mark the opening of two major (free!) art exhibitions in Mérida, which prompted us to swap our music focus for visual arts and check out some what’s on offer here in Centro, the city’s historic core.
#1 The Olimpo
The upper galleries of the Olimpo are home to an exhibition of 114 Henri Matisse portrait sketches, lithographs, and linotypes created in the years after his life-changing surgery for duodenal cancer that coincided with the timing of World War II. After his surgery, Matisse no longer had the stamina for the time-consuming brightly coloured paintings and sculptures which had become somewhat of a trademark, and instead began a long phase of creating graphic arts, including stencils and some wonderful paper cut-outs and collages.
The exhibit at the Olimpo features many simple line-drawing portraits of indigenous people of the Inuit and Pacific northwestern tribes, mirroring the kind of fascination that his contemporary Paul Gauguin had with Polynesian models. One or two of the faces are loosely comparable to Picasso, who was a slightly younger contemporary.
One of the 3 galleries featured artwork with decidedly patriotic French themes: fleurs-de-lis, poems by Charles d’Orleans, and illustrations based on French novels. These works were Matisse’s way of preserving French history and culture during the Nazi occupation, although apparently he had to sign an oath assuring his non-Jewish status in order to be allowed to exhibit his works.
Interestingly, the flower cut-outs on exhibit looked almost exactly like the coloured leaf motif used on the 2023 Méridafest posters.
#2 Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán (the Yucatan State Government Palace)
The current building was inaugurated on September 15, 1892. At first all the government agencies that govern the state were located here, however today only the offices of the Governor, the General Secretariat of the Government, the Mayor, and the Legal and Press Directorates remain in this building. The former building, dating to before Mexican independence from Spain, also had bedrooms for the official representatives of the Crown.
The government palace is divided into two floors joined by a stone staircase of massive scale. On the upper floor is the State Assembly Hall, where the history of Yucatan is presented through 27 immense works painted between 1971 and 1978 by renowned Yucatecan artist Fernando Castro Pacheco, distributed in public galleries, the Salon de Historia (history room), and in the stairwell.
At night, with the galleries lit, the huge murals inside can be enticingly glimpsed from the street; I felt drawn to seeing them up close.
Facing them, the sheer size and powerful imagery in the murals brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica, which we saw many years ago in the United Nations building when we visited New York City. The 2 largest of the murals, on opposite sides of the ground floor courtyard, are each 4 metres tall and 12.5 metres wide (13 x 41 ft, compared to Guernica at 11.5 x 25 ft) .
There are huge murals depicting important figures in Mexican and Yucatecan history, but also images celebrating “ordinary” people.
The murals’ subject matter ranges from inspirational to brutal, depicting all the important aspects of Yucatecan history. I found them a very effective learning tool.
And finally, a massive mural depicting the Caste War, during which the Yucatecan Governor who built the house in which we’re staying was a general in the Mexican army.
The murals in the Government Palace are a permanent exhibition. The big exhibition premiering at the Museum of the City of Merida is one we’ll visit next week, since that museum also has several permanent exhibits we’d like to explore.
Your favorite lino print reminds me a bit of Edvar Munch’s The Scream. Munch was prominently displayed at the top of the atrium staircase on the Viking Star.
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