Jorge Pardo's Merida

The prolific artist and weekend fisherman enjoys the low-key pleasures of his adopted Mexican hometown.

Jorge Pardo's home in Mérida, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Pardo.)

“Sunny people and weird expats,” says Jorge Pardo when asked to describe his fellow residents of Mérida, Mexico. The Cuban-American artist has lived in the colonial Yucatán capital for 20 years, ever since he first visited on his honeymoon. “Mérida is still here, the wife is gone,” he jokes.

Pardo is one of the cultural world’s most colorful characters, both in personality and craft. As an artist, he’s known for his ability to transform ordinary things into kaleidoscopic objects of desire. In his hands, a chandelier resembles a fragment of a coral reef; a credenza doubles as a painting. This past year, he channeled his talents into creating L’Arlatan, art patron Maja Hoffman’s eye-popping boutique hotel in Arles, France. In typical fashion, Pardo transformed the aging 15th-century palace into an artwork in its own right, using doors as canvases for his original paintings and festooning the interiors in vibrantly patterned tiles sourced from the Yucatán.

While Pardo, who also splits his time in New York, is often on the road showing work in gallery and museum exhibitions, he always enjoys returning to Mérida. “There’s a very pleasant deadness to this place,” he says, citing the undeveloped art scene as one of the city’s biggest draws. Sporting his signature look of unruly gray halfro, scruffy beard, and flip- flops, Pardo spends his low-key days working in his studio, fishing in a boat he built from scratch, and cooking in the botanical environs of his sprawling home, a formerly derelict compound he transformed into an oasis of wild gardens and mango trees. Life in the tropics, he admits, is pretty sweet. “It’s nice to come home to a place that operates at a different pace, to work in a more chilled-out environment. It’s always warm here. It’s a town that’s stuck in the ’70s—there’s only a handful of things to do and for me, that’s more than enough.”

(From left) Rosas y Xocolate Hotel, in Merida. Exhibition view of Pablo Dávila's work at joségarcía in Mérida. (Photos courtesy of Rosas y Xocolate Hotel and Omar Said.)


“I made friends with the city’s chefs because they are the creative types here,” says Pardo, an accomplished cook himself. One of his favorite restaurants is Nctar, where chef Roberto Solis employs French and Japanese techniques on local ingredients. “He’s very close with Noma’s René Redzepi, who spends time here every year,” says Pardo. He recommends sitting at the bar, which offers a front-row view of the chefs at work in the kitchen, and ordering the black onion rings. “They’re made with this burnt chili spice that they burn, burn, burn until it’s black ash.” (Pardo and Solis are teaming up to open a restaurant in 2020.) If he’s craving tacos, Wayan’e is Pardo’s go-to.

“The Yucatecans don’t have a taco tradition—they use tortillas more as silverware,” he says. “This place makes crazy ones that are mostly salt, pork fat, and yummy stuff.” What Mérida does have is cochinita pibil, the region’s answer to American barbecue, cooked enterrado (buried). According to the artist, you’ll find the most authentic version at the traditional eatery El Principe Tutul-Xiu. “They put this red mole on it, dig a hole, and stick the pig in, wrapped in banana leaf.” When he’s in the mood for a cheap mojito, Cuban music, and an eclectic crowd, Pardo pops into La Negrita Cantina, “a Mexican place that a French guy opened with his local partner,” he says. “The Tulum types go there, and my housekeeper goes there too. You can eat mediocre things and get drunk for 10 bucks.”

If the guest rooms at his house are full, Pardo sends visitors to Casa Lecanda, a rehabbed neoclassical property with stone and marble archways, French tiles, and handcrafted Méridana hammocks. “It’s a grand colonial home by the guy who owns the Oliva restaurants,” he says. “It’s small and simple and accessible to everything.” He also recommends the 17-room Rosas & Xocolate, housed in a vibrant pueblo-style building with hand-painted tiles and chukum stucco walls. “It’s right on the Paseo de Montejo, which is kind of the Champs-Élysées of Mérida,” he says.

While Mérida is Pardo’s escape from the freneticism of the art-world milieu, Pardo says he always checks out whatever sculpture show is on at Joségarcía Gallery, whose flagship is in Mexico City. “It’s basically a gallery with a tree and no roof. I did a show of paintings there a couple of years ago and the local neighborhood kids stole everything,” he says with a laugh. And the art scene is growing, whether Pardo likes it or not. In January, García will be opening a multipurpose exhibition space with a movie theater and restaurant, and Los Angeles’s pioneering China Art Objects Galleries will relocate to Mérida permanently.

On weekends, Pardo takes advantage of the Yucatan Peninsula’s natural bounty, spending time at the beach or deep-sea fishing. But no visitor should miss seeing the Mayan ruins. “There are minor sites everywhere; you stumble upon a pyramid and see a guy in a hammock,” he says. He suggests forgoing the tourist mecca Chichén Itzá for the underrated Uxmal. “It’s empty but still has ornamentation. You understand how Mayans functioned as a civilization when you go to a place like that. The terrain is hot as shit, but it’s spectacular.”

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