Interviews & Editorials / Mercy Mercy Me... What's Going On?

Mercy Mercy Me... What's Going On?

Mercy Mercy Me... What's Going On?

19 May 2008 Interviews & Editorials 20

Some of you may recognize the title of this article as the title of a popular song by Marvin Gaye that came out in 1971. The song was on the album, "What's Going On" and became one of Marvin Gaye's most famous in his very large repertoire of famous songs and in 2002, the song won a Grammy "Hall of Fame" Award.

So, what's going on here? Why are we mentioning this?

"Mercy, Mercy Me!" was Marvin Gaye's song about the world's growing environmental problems, which are now focused on climate change issues and which happen to be the subject of this year's sculpture exhibit on Paseo de Montejo. It was also our reaction to the complaints, arguments and discussions that we have heard over the last few weeks about the current sculpture exhibit put up by the MACAY along Paseo de Montejo.

When the exhibit was mounted, we heard that the artists, a group from Germany and one from Mexico, were brought here to create the work (as opposed to sending already-created work as has been done in the past). They were charged with using found materials to create their works. We also were informed that the unifying theme of the exhibit was the environment, climate change and its consequences. "How timely!", we thought. "How modern! How smart! How original!" and we looked forward to seeing the exhibit.

Our usual time of day for enjoying the sculpture on Paseo de Montejo is Sunday morning, about 6 AM, when we walk the dogs. The Paseo is very quiet then, and we have time, space and silence in which to contemplate the art. In fact, it's a near-perfect outdoor museum at that time of day... we highly recommend it!

So, a few Sundays ago, we spent a good hour and a half taking in the exhibit. After a serious observation of the works, we had a number of reactions. First of all, most of the offerings are not as visually pleasing as exhibits in years past. Some of the art was downright difficult to appreciate, and as with any exhibit of multiple artists, there were a few pieces we just didn't like. Conversely, some of the art was not only extremely creative, but thoughtful and thought-provoking. A few pieces were also quite beautiful. Upon seeing the entire show, we were pleased and proud of Merida for having the foresight and courage to mount such an event.

And then, the rumors, the gossip, the chisme (gossip) began.

"Did you hear...?", "Did you know...?" began sentences filled with accusations denigrating the intelligence of the curator, the artists, the Yucatecans, and just about everyone in between. Some people hate the art and think it just looks like garbage. Some people love the art and think the artists were making a not-so-veiled commentary on the garbage in Mexico. Some people were denigrating the people that were denigrating the art.

Mercy, Mercy Me! What's Going On?

After thinking about it, we have decided that what's going on is that the current sculpture exhibit on Paseo de Montejo is one of the most successful exhibits of the Merida art world in the seven years we have lived here. It has gotten to the very core of how we think about Art. For centuries, mankind has been debating whether it is more important for Art to be beautiful or for Art to invoke a reaction in the viewer. Just because something is beautiful doesn't make it Art. Our dog is beautiful, but we wouldn't have much luck getting him into a museum. On the other hand, just because it makes you think or makes you angry or makes you cry, doesn't make it Art either. If we burn down your house, we can make you cry... but is it Art? (David Byrne might argue of course...)

Our point is that the current sculpture exhibit on Paseo de Montejo is making all the residents of and visitors to Merida think and talk about it. The exhibit has renewed, in this small community, the debate about What Is Art? Not only that, it has stimulated conversations and debates about garbage, recycling, beauty, the health of the planet, the point of Art and a whole lot more. Que marvilloso!

Yesterday, over lunch at a local outdoor restaurant, a table of six gringos was vigorously debating the merit of certain pieces in the exhibit. Another gringa came up and told us a story about what she had heard from her Yucatecan friends. In emails earlier in the week, more debate was going on. And from what we hear, the local Yucatecan community has been debating the merits of the show as well. When is the last time this many people have been talking and thinking about art and garbage in Merida?

This is how we feel about it. We are proud of Merida and the MACAY for the current exhibit on display on Paseo de Montejo. We are proud that Merida and the MACAY was savvy enough to look beyond its own borders, look around the world, and recognize trends in Life and Art. We are proud that Merida and the MACAY recognized a subject important enough to dedicate an entire year-long exhibit to it. And we are proud of the artists involved for their attempts at creating art with that subject as a theme.


We especially love a few specific obras (works). We love the reconstituted motorcycle that sits in the place of honor at the Remate of Paseo de Montejo. The artist has recycled pieces of motorcycles and married them together to create a futuristic bird that turns in the wind and seems to be the very embodiment of speed. We've spent a lot of time in Colorado, where there are a number of works like this on display, and we think this is one of the most beautiful we've ever seen. We love the work of the artist that wrapped the trees and their iron boundary fences in pink cloth, using the cloth to suspend more fences in the branches, jumbling them together and expanding our view of where the trees and the boundaries begin and end.

We were delighted with the stand of bamboo, twisted artfully over a mirror, reflecting the child in all of us that slumbers in peace and safety, nurtured by nature. We liked the trees wrapped in huipile-like tents, reminding us that the trees are indigenous, alive and worthy of the same respect as the indigenous Maya. We even liked the piled and painted fruit boxes across from WalMart, testament to the fact that even something as pedestrian and common as a fruit box can be made into something light, lyrical and lovely with patience, care and attention. The concrete pillar, decorated with the indentations of plastic bottles and carryout boxes initially arrested our attention for its designs, and then made us think about the plethora of those boxes all around us and how they contribute to garbage on the planet. The "exploded" house made us think about the fragility of human structures in the face of nature... and we imagine that the degradation of that wooden structure over the next ten months in the tropical environment will be even more cause for thought. The painted plywood box that was constructed around a tree is a visual display of how human construction tends to box nature in, from animals deprived of habitats by housing developments to humans themselves deprived of the soothing effects of the natural world. Other memorable works include the circle of corn kernels containing dirt and growing cornstalks, the child's playset made from recycled metal parts and the outdoor sala with its tiled Yucatecan floor being broken apart by nature erupting from beneath it.

We realize that this particular show has not been received positively by many people in Merida. We encourage them to take another look, and realize that this show is about something bigger than Paseo de Montejo and la ciudad blanca (the White City). It is about the world we all live in, how we are treating it, how we depend on it and how we must both find, preserve and create beauty here if we are to survive. For the people who like the show, but feel angry with the people who don't, we encourage them to have tolerance and understanding. Not all art is approachable right away. Not all art is for everyone. Art is a small word that encompasses a lot of big ideas. There is room in Art for everyone.

Let's all be tolerant of each other's views, and use this show as a catalyst to come together to discuss the things that we have in common, including our garbage, our planet and the future. It would do us all good to remember something that Marvin Gaye sang in another one of his famous songs from that same album:

" We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today...

  • Click here for all the lyrics to Mercy, Mercy Me and What's Going On. Or watch Mercy, Mercy Me here and listen to What's Going On here.
  • Click here for more about Waste Reduction strategies: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (By the way, we have found that the culture in Mexico far exceeds that of our home country in the first two of the three, while perhaps falling behind in the third. But according to Wikipedia, the three strategies are in order of importance and impact)
  • Controversial Art throughout history includes Luncheon on the Grass, Guernica, Madame X, Raft of the Medusa, and most recently, Tumbling Woman, which was displayed at Rockefeller Center, the site of another work of controversy, Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads.

Read this article in Spanish in the Diario de Yucatan's website here.


  • Lisa in el Norte 15 years ago

    Gringos, I am so touched by your article and by the clever and thoughtful way you wove together the music and art. I still haven't made it to your lovely part of the world but I am continually impressed by your representation of it. Something 'artistic' about that!

  • Gerardo Espejo 15 years ago

    I take my sombrero off for CasiYucateco.
    Thank you.
    I don't intend to keep the dilemma around the pertinence of this exhibit, but my gratitude is not only of someone who worked in the visual arts department in the past administration and also an artist myself, but first of all, I'm a yucateco concern about the art movement in Mérida, so I appreciate your valuable opinion as well as all the support all the ex pats community had given to the local art endeavors. Hope we can have more eyes with your sensitivity towards these approaches, specially on what contemporary art concerns.
    Congratulations and thanks again to you and to all our friends in arms.


  • Working Gringos 15 years ago

    ohmigoodness, that was beautiful. you brought tears to our eyes too.

    we will never look at a fruit crate again in the same way! and THAT, my friends, is what ART is all about (in our humble opinion).

  • CasiYucateco 15 years ago

    I like 'beauty' in the world, but am far from educated about 'art.'

    I just want to say what I thought about the fruit crates. I first saw them while coming down the street one day, too hot, desperate for a fan and cold drink. I thought, "I wonder what show is coming here soon," thinking of a concert or a band and this being their backdrop. Kinda wacky, but that's what came to mind.

    Later, I had the chance to actually look at the stack of fruit crates, rather than zooming by in a half-heat stroke swoon. It may be just a stack of fruit crates, but it literally brought tears to my eyes.

    Think of all the poor who have close to nothing to call their own, yet the simple crate allows them to carry their produce to market.

    Think of all the migrant workers who have harvested US food for a couple hundred years, poorly paid, dusted in pesticides and herbicides, doing back-breaking work in the hot sun from dawn to dusk.

    Think of all the mercados across Mexico with their various local fruits and vegetables, the chaotic and cheerful banter between stalls and between stall owners and customers. Mothers with children propped up behind the stack of melons. And the fruit crates being the unifying element in the colorful, noisy kaleidesocpe of activity.

    Think of all the people for which the lowly fruit crate has meant the chance for opportunity, not always for themselves but for their children. Toting goods to market, being filled by the tens of thousands in long rows of corporate vegetable fields like those of Yuma Valley, simply holding a household's valuables while traveling....

    The fruit crate is a deep intrinsic part of so many people's lives. Even our own, though we may be oblivious to its importance.

    What a beautiful display. To me, the colors, the high stacked cube of crates, the side of the road location with cars whizzing by... For me, it is a magical display of those dry topics of history, sociology, demography. They are a real part of the lives of real people.

    Commemorating those lowly fruit crates pays tribute to those who feed us, each and every day. And reminds us that food isn't just simply 'found' in a supermarket, but delivered through the hard work and loving kindness of millions of simple laborers. For that, I give thanks.

  • Pauline S. 15 years ago

    Hi again,
    I love the expression "One persons trash is anothers treasure." A double entendre, literally, in this case. As a lover of ART, I see beauty expressed in many ways.

    The pure visual and sometimes tongue in check humor of some of the pieces on the Paseo de Monteo. The impact, when you juxtapose things that appear to be oppositional, was fabulous. Merida is just that much more appealing to me because of it.....

    What was so powerful to me about this exhibit was the sweet/salty relationship between the backdrop of the magnificant old colonial mansions and the forground of contemporary artistic interpretations of issues that face Yucatecans (and the rest of the world). The old and the new sharing space.

    I am not surprised that there are many who grapple with the difficulting of how to move forward while still honoring the past. I remember watching the Ed Sullivan show with my family when the Beetles were on for the first time. (ok so that really dates me) My father was appalled - now he would admit that they were harmless compared to todays "Rock bands". Isn't it all relative? It is an age old issue in the art world that confronts many non-traditional exhibits. The associated costs almost always turning into a blame game.

    There is a lot of art in the world that I don't like, personally, BUT - I respect the artist's and their admirers' right to their opinion, they like it. So, why can't all parties in this situation at least agree to the right to disagree with each others opinion.

    I rarely look at art with the notion that I need to "know the intention of the artist", for me that isn't important. I don't ask "what is this supposed to be or what was the artist intent?" I just allow myself to see without intellectualizing what I saw.

    Sometimes I love it, other times - not so much!

    So, in summary, I loved the exhibit.....maybe I'll hate the next one. You can't please everyone all the time. Politicians are not art critics and vice versa. Be careful about placing blame. You just might lose some of your best people.

    Thank you,
    PS. Creativity - is an intentional accident

  • ileana 15 years ago

    publicity... perspective... im in love of art, but, i think there are a few interesting works, creativity, inteligence but others are just trash...

  • Working Gringos 15 years ago

    We've never heard of the Amigos del Macay... can you explain to us what the group is about?

  • Luis Dzul 15 years ago

    Just out of curiosity

    I am sure you guys do not know that Jose Novelo Baeza M.D. is the present partner of Elba Garcia Villareal head of The Amigos del Macay.

    What a coincidence!


    Luis Dzul

  • Working Gringos 15 years ago


    We think that civilized discussion and conversation about art and it's value is healthy and needed. It is hard to know whether the right amount is spent on something like art... people spend millions of dollars on tiny paintings by dead artists... are they worth it? Quien sabe?
    In any case, we agree that calling Yucatecans "barbarians" because they don't like the art is not only over-the-top but just plain wrong. Obviously, whoever said that hasn't been here long and doesn't understand the history of this area, or they wouldn't dream of saying such a thing.

  • Lucy Medina 15 years ago

    I celebrate the topic of the exhibit. I don't think that all that is called "Art" is necessarily so. Most of the exhibits we saw were beautiful or imaginative, creative and so on. Others, like those old fruit crates, look like an afterthought, something done fast and easy. The placing is also unfortunate, the worst in the best space. I also think that critique encourages betterment and art is not sacred and can be criticized. Some of the reasons of dissatisfaction for the Yucatecos has to do with the amount of money spent. Several figures were quoted, I don't know exactly which it is. I can tell you that some self-named art gurus called those expressing criticism "barbarians". Muy exagerado, don't you think?

  • lane 15 years ago

    Thank you for the insight. I will certainly look at the collection again, and with more tolerance. Your article was very thought provoking.

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