This incredible exhibit may be Casa de Montejo’s final bow

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Almost everyone who visits Mérida is at least aware of La Casa de Montejo on the southern end of the city’s main plaza. 

Casa de Montejo began construction in 1542, the same year Mérida was founded, and was completed in 1549. It served as the official residence of the Montejo conquistadors in Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The estate is one of the oldest and best-preserved examples of Plateresque colonial architecture in Mexico. Though several changes have been made to its facade over the centuries, its basic design has remained virtually intact.

Plateresque, meaning “in the manner of a silversmith,” was a Spanish artistic movement that appeared during the Gothic and Renaissance period in the 15th century. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Nowadays, Casa Montejo is owned by Citibanamex, though that may soon be changing, and open to the public as a museum. The historic home is full of artifacts including fine European furniture, several sets of china, and artworks featuring portraits.

But not everyone is aware that Casa Montejo also holds temporary art exhibitions, some of which have been truly excellent. An example of this can be seen today in the exhibition titled “Detrás de una máscara,” or “Behind a Mask,” by Oaxacan artists Jacobo Ángeles and his wife María Mendoza. 

A feathered serpent jaguar hybrid, complete with a golden brow and encrusted spine — certainly reminiscent of figures observable at several archaeological sites such as Mitla or Teotihuacan. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The exhibition is made up of 36 pieces of art representing an imaginative fusion of mesoamerican mythological animals, as well as masks and two large painted canvases. 

Jacobo Ángeles and  María Mendoza describe these fantastic animalistic figures as metaphorical for different aspects of the human soul. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Both the wooden masks themselves and the sculptures of mythological animals possess a quality that could be described as carnivalesque.

Wooden masks with animalistic features resembling sea creatures, birds, mammals, and insects are on display at the “Detrás de una máscara” exhibit in downtown Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado vand er Gracht

Several of these colorful wooden sculptures share many similarities with Mexico’s famous alebrijes. However, the creators argue that the inspiration for these artworks is to be found more in the Mixe-Zapotec culture of Oaxaca than in the work of 20th-century Mexican folk art.

An unusual, perhaps even inverted, take on the feathered serpent motif described as a powerful symbol of fertility. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Aside from the husband-and-wife team principally credited with these works, their creation also involved the world of another eight artists who worked for up to a year on each piece. 

Wooden figures resembling spider monkeys with exaggerated tongues hang from the roof of the exhibit in Mérida’s Casa de Montejo. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The two large paintings also on display share many of the characteristics of the masks and sculptures, but are much darker and could even be described as macabre. 

The body paint worn by the man depicted in the painting resembles bodypaint worn by warriors in Mesoamerica which emulate marks on jaguars. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Though each of the pieces in the collection is quite different, they all share a similar “fantastic” aesthetic which is complemented by a gregarious use of color.

A sculpture of a golden-faced dog, is likely a xoloitzcuintle, sporting large antlers and a golden face. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Several of the artworks contain elements such as fossils, as well as gold and silver laminate.

A wooden sculpture was created using a fossil to emulate the shell of a snail fused with the facial features of a monkey. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The Detrás de una máscara exhibit is free and open to the public at the Casa de Montejo from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Free guided visits are also offered at noon and 4 p.m. 

This masked sculpture of a colorful avian figure possesses powerful talons and an inquisitive stare. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

There is no listed end date published for this temporary exhibit, but with news that CitiGroup will be selling off Banamex and all of its real estate holdings, there has been speculation that Casa de Montejo may be closing to the public sooner rather than later.

One of the most bizarre, and that is saying something, pieces at the Detrás de una máscara exhibit at Casa Montejo.  Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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