German auction of Latin American antiques continues, but many works are not sold

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A green nephrite Olmec mask of a dignitary, around 1500-600 BC Chr., Offered by Gerhard Hirsch Successor, did not reach the reserve price

A controversial auction of pre-Columbian artifacts took place in Germany on Tuesday, despite diplomats from seven Latin American countries backing a Mexican offer to stop sales.

The Mexican minister of education Alejandra Fraustro sent a letter to Francisca Bernheimer, the director of the Munich dealer Gerhard Hirsch Successor, last week and described 74 works in the auction as “national heritage”. The Mexican authorities contacted the German government shortly afterwards, and ambassadors from Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama and Peru – countries that also had works on offer – acted unanimously against the auction. In total, the sales catalog listed more than 300 articles from Latin America.

In a joint press conference this morning, the eight diplomats called for the auction to be canceled, some works to be returned and further information on the provenance by the auction house. The Panamanian ambassador, who listed seven pieces, said those involved in the sale should be “ashamed” and said his government is calling for UNESCO to intervene on the matter.

But the sales went ahead and the Mexican newspaper El Universal, reports that of the 67 pieces designated as Mexican in the auction, only 36 were sold. The newspaper found that an ornate ax from the period between AD 1500 and AD 600. However, an Olmec mask, which was one of the highlights of the sale catalog at an estimate of 100,000 euros, did not reach its reserve.

The auction house did not make a statement of sale and the Mexican National Institute of Archeology and History did not respond to a request for comment.

Daniel Salinas Cordova, a Mexican archaeologist and commentator based in Germany, said on social media that he wasn’t surprised by the outcome of the sale. The publicity surrounding the event, he suggested, “could well be due to concerns that some of the items were not provided with sufficient information about their origins”.

This week the Mexican government successfully stopped a small sale of antiques in Rome.


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