Episode 388 – Art Gallery Week!

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

Both sets of stairs leading to the Olimpo’s galleries were decorated with these brightly coloured “leaves”, which we later realized were related both to Méridafest AND Henri Matisse!

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.

Faces of eight “Esquimault” women.
Matisse’s famous “Three Faces of Friendship”
My favourite of the lino prints on display.
3 out of 4 of 1952’s Blue Nudes.

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.

Charles, Duke d’Orleans, and fleurs-de-lis lithographs.

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 eagle killing the serpent on the crest over the main entrance is also in the centre of the Mexican flag.

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 courtyard as seen from the upstairs gallery. On the left during our daytime visit; on the right after dark. In both cases you can see one of San Ildefonso Cathedral’s two spires over the rooftop.

The courtyard viewed at ground level.

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.

The upper level (the history salon visible from the street at night). The mural at the bottom is a particularly gruesome depiction of Mayan revolutionary Jacinto Canek being drawn and quartered in 1761 by the Spanish.

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 upper photo gives some perspective as to the mural’s size – remember these are 18 foot high ceilings! One of the theatre venues we attend is named after Puerto.
I really liked these powerful hands and feet. “Sisal” is the English translation of henequen, the fibre that brought prosperity to the Yucatan in the mid 19th century.

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.

In real life, the mural is more than 12 feet tall – and the text fits on a little plaque stand below it.

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.

One comment

  1. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

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