Mexico is fighting to stop auctions of pre-Hispanic art in France, but to no avail

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Mexico tried to stop the sale of pre-Hispanic artifacts at an auction in Paris on Tuesday but failed.

The Mexican embassy in France said in a statement last week that it had contacted the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs to express its concern over two auctions aimed at selling items “of our national heritage”.

It stressed that the commercialization of archaeological artifacts would encourage cross-border crime and create favorable conditions for the looting of cultural property through illegal excavations.

The embassy said it mentioned the memorandum of understanding that the Mexican and French authorities signed earlier this year to strengthen cooperation against illicit trafficking in cultural goods and called on the French authorities to verify that the operators of auctions and sales are running comply with national and international legal obligations.

The embassy also said it had written letters of protest to the presidents of auction houses Artcurial and Christie’s Paris to request that their auctions be canceled.

However, Artcurial’s auction took place in Paris on Tuesday, while Christie’s auction is set to take place in the French capital next Wednesday.

The vast majority of the 232 lots offered at Artcurial’s Antiquities, Islam & Pre-Columbian Art auction, which comprised more than 40 Mexican pieces, were loud Sales results published on the company’s website.

The Mexican items sold included a “Jaguar” Maya vase for 9,100 euros, a Mixtec ceramic plate for 1,560 euros and a ceramic parrot from Colima for 1,950 euros.

At the upcoming Christie’s auction – “Pre-Columbian Art & Taino Masterpieces from the Fiore Arts Collection” – More than 70 Mexican pieces should be placed on the block.

These include a 1,500-year-old Teotihuacán mask with an estimated value of 20,000 to 40,000 euros and a rare Mayan pendant valued at up to 100,000 euros.

Culture minister Alejandro Frausto also wrote to Christie’s Paris asking not to continue the auction.

This Mayan vase sold for over $ 10,000.

“The Ministry of Culture of the Mexican government is asking Christie’s to stop the auction and reflect on the historical and cultural value of the items,” she wrote.

“… The Mexican government strongly deplores and condemns the sale of such items, which are inalienable, unsaleable property of the nation, which are unauthorized and illegally removed from national territory as prohibited by Mexican law since 1827.”

The government has also sought the support of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization to stop sales of Mexican artifacts overseas.

Authorities had little success in stopping Mexican artifacts from being sold at international auctions in cities like Paris and New York, but Italian authorities intervened in September to cancel an auction in Rome that was supposed to take 17 pre-Hispanic pieces on the block.

Frausto said timely action by the Mexican Ambassador to Italy Carlos García de Alba and the European Nation’s Police Chief for the Protection of Cultural Heritage Roberto Riccardi were critical to suspending the auction.

Riccardi was then awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest Mexican order that can be bestowed on a foreigner.

With reports from AFP and El País


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