Hidden somewhere in Mérida’s Centro, a warehouse-like space guards the work of dozens of artists from all over the country.
As I greet Galería Secreta’s director, 36-year-old Mario Torre, he opens the door of a building that used to be a repair shop and auto parts dealership. A business started by his great-grandfather back in the 1940s and forced to fold in 2019, just a few months before the start of the pandemic.
Mario, who worked at the shop for 10 years, faced the daunting yet unique situation of having to figure out a new direction for his life. Influenced by his sister, photographer and visual artist Alexa Torre, he took a leap of faith into the art world, setting up his own gallery at Colonia Mexico. “It was a hunch,” he confesses.
After avoiding spending time at his past workplace for a couple of years, in July 2021 he moved the project to its current location. With the move came a rebranding and that’s when the concept of a secret gallery came up.
“Most galleries are very similar, they share the same concept, very elitist. I wanted to create a space where everyone feels welcomed.”
The hook was to have the gallery hidden from view, a departure from the traditional shop window. The key, he says, was to open an Instagram profile. “People would come to the gallery, upload their pictures and tag us.” Not long after the first exhibitions opened, the account started gaining followers. And the phone began to ring.
The way to visit Galería Secreta is to make an appointment. Visitors can either call or text, negotiate a date and time with Mario, and show up. Admission is free and guests may even enjoy some wine as he walks them through the gallery’s rooms. The place has the vibe of a slightly neglected public parking lot, which contrasts with the thoughtfully displayed exhibitions.
Another spin is that only Mexican artists or artists residing in Mexico can have their work shown here. Currently, there are two exhibitions on display. One is the recent work of Jorge Patrón, an artist who uses the strappo technique, which consists of painting on a wall and then detaching the paint and applying it to a new support, resulting in a unique, scrappy look.
The other one, occupying most of the gallery’s space, is S.O.S., for which the gallery received over 170 applications. The final selection features the work of 48 artists from all corners of Mexico, united by a single theme: sustainable art for an unsustainable civilization. Showcasing human devastation of natural environments, the exhibition uses beauty and thought-provoking pieces to make an urgent call to action regarding climate change.
We step inside a cargo lift that serves as an elevator to a second floor. Upstairs is Galería Torre.
Though not officially part of Galería Secreta, Mario always shows visitors around this room as part of the experience. The space is run by his sister and currently houses an exhibition named Paradas Continuas, which features the work of mostly Cuban artists residing in Yucatán.
We talk about the hard work that is curation and museography. “Everything has to live in harmony. When you have a lot of artists, you need to make sure that there’s a dialogue between them, that’s the magic. Also, there must be a visual balance of the pieces across the space.”
The most valuable lesson Mario has learned along the way is that art is always a team effort and knowing how to work and get along with others is paramount. Having experienced some backlash from Merida’s art establishment, he has also learned to trust his gut and run with his instincts.
“I listen to feedback and I will consider it when it’s good advice, but I don’t let it steer me away from my principles and taste.”
Before saying goodbye, I ask him to pose with his own piece, El Fin de una Era, which welcomes visitors to Galería Secreta. The stacked piles of folders and papers were taken from the old repair shop’s archive. The name — the end of an era — is a double play on words that alludes to the end of both his family’s business and the era of paper files.
How to visit Galería Secreta
The gallery’s address is not published, but it’s in the heart of the Centro. Make an appointment via WhatsApp: 999-163-3114
See more on Instagram: @galeriasecretamx