The José Luis Cuevas Museum and Church of Santa Inés are located just off the main plaza, or Zocalo of Mexico City and started out as parts of the same convent complex. The museum was founded in what in colonial times was the residential portion of the convent of Santa Inés (Agnes of Rome). This convent was founded in 1600 by Don Diego Caballero and his wife Doña Inés de Velasco. The convent existed until 1861, when, due to the Nationalization of Church Property Act, all covents and monasteries in the country were disbanded. The convent’s church and residence hall where separated and the Church of Santa Inés still maintains its original function. The residence hall became private property, functioning mostly as tenements until artist José Luis Cuevas bought the property with the intention to restoring it and establishing the current museum dedicated to his art and art of contemporary Latin America.

History of the convent

The order of Santa Inés was founded in 1600, by Don Diego Caballero and his wife Doña Inés de Velasco. Their patronage was funded by their ownership of the largest sugar cane processing operation in New Spain. The Santa Inés convent was originally built to accommodate thirty-three nuns, equal to the number of years Christ spent on earth. In colonial times, it also took in Spanish orphans who did not have a dowry. In return, these orphans were required to pray an hour a day for their benefactors.

The complex suffered damage in 1624 as a result of flooding and again in 1639 due to a fire. In 1710, its single tower was built, which was high enough to be seen from the main plaza of town. Towards the end of the 18th century, its ceiling was rotten, and the church and tower were cracked. The complex was repaired under the patronage of the Marquis of La Cadena. In 1861, due the Reform Laws the convent was closed. The nuns here were moved first to Santa Teresa La Antigua then later to Santa Catalina de Siena. The tower was demolished, and the church and convent were separated with the convent’s residence portion being sold into private hands due to the nationalization of church property at that time. The convent and church were declared a national monument in 1932, but it remained private property as tenements until the 1980’s, when the museum project began.

Church of Santa Inés

The entrance of the church is at 26 Moneda Street, just northeast of the main plaza of Mexico City. This church is considered to be a mix of styles between Mexican Baroque and Neo-classic. The church was completely finished in 1770.

The church has two portals, one dedicated to Saint Agnes and the other to the Apostle James. The wooden doors of this church are carved with reliefs. Some of these depict the life of Saint Agnes and others show images of the nuns of the convent with their benefactors, Don Diego Caballero and Doña Inés de Velasco. One scene depicts the life of the Apostle James just after he is martyred by decapitation. One other shows Santiago Matamoros, a saint connected with the expulsion of the Moors from Spain.

Its dome is decorated with tiles laid in a strip design and made to look like rebozos, a type of indigenous shawl. Inside, the original Baroque altar is long gone, replaced with the current Neoclassic altar. Mexican painters Miguel Cabrera and José de Ibarra are interned in altar here.

José Luis Cuevas Museum

By the late 1970’s, artist José Luis Cuevas had gathered a large collection of modern art by Latin American artists with the aim of establishing a museum in his name. The collection was kept in the storage facilities of the Carrillo Gil Museum as Cuevas looked for a suitable location for the collection. Having been born in the Centro (Mexico City) of Mexico City, Cuevas wanted the museum to be located there. After deciding upon the old convent building and relocated the tenants that lived there in 1983, Cuevas, along with government agencies and private supporters set to restore the building and perform archeological work, which revealed many of the older constructions of the convent. Restoration work was completed in 1988, and the museum opened on 8 July 1992. While it was mostly restored to its colonial appearance, Cuevas had the courtyard roofed with a plastic dome to have something contrary and modern. The entrance of the museum is located at 13 Academia Street, around the corner from the Santa Inés Church.

The convent’s patio is dominated by a tall bronze sculpture called “La Giganta” (The Female Giant). Cuevas himself created this statue for this particular space. The statue is eight meters tall and weighs 8 tons. The principal exhibition rooms contain Cuevas’ own works, including one room dedicated to his and his wife’s (Bertha Cuevas) work and the Pablo Picasso room, containing a collection of Cuevas’ drawings. The collection of the museum includes Mexican artists such as Francisco Toledo, Juan Soriano, Vicente Rojo Almazán, Manuel Felguérez, Arnold Belkin, Gabriel Macotela, as well as some foreign artists such as Roberto Matta, Fernando de Szys-Varo, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo.