German auction of Latin American antiques continues, but many works fail to sell

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A dignitary’s green nephrite Olmec mask, circa 1500-600 BC, offered for sale at Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger, has not reached its reserve price

A controversial auction of pre-Columbian artifacts took place in Germany on Tuesday, although diplomats from seven Latin American countries backed a Mexican offer to stop the sale.

Last week, Alejandra Fraustro, Mexico’s Secretary for Culture, sent a letter to Francisca Bernheimer, director of Munich-based dealer Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger, identifying 74 works on sale as “national heritage”. Shortly thereafter, Mexican authorities contacted the German government directly, and the ambassadors of Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama and Peru – countries that also had works in the area. sale – launched a united front against the auction. In total, the sales catalog lists more than 300 Latin American items.

This morning, the eight diplomats held a joint press conference calling for the cancellation of the auction, the repatriation of some of the works and for the auction house to provide details on the provenance of the pieces. . The Panamanian ambassador – who had listed seven pieces – said those involved in the sale should “be ashamed of themselves” and said his government called for Unesco’s intervention in the matter.

But the sale took place, and the Mexican newspaper, The universal, reported that of the 67 pieces at the auction described as Mexican, only 36 had been sold. The newspaper noted that a decorated ax dating from around 1500-600 AD with a reserve price of € 14,000 sold for € 16,000, while a figurine believed to be Olmec sold for € 12,000. on a reserve price of € 10,000. An Olmec mask, which was one of the strong points of the sales catalog with an estimate of 100,000 €, however, did not reach its reserve.

The auction house did not release a statement about the sale, and the Mexican National Institute of Archeology and History did not return a request for comment.

Daniel Salinas Cordova, a Mexican archaeologist and commentator based in Germany, said on social media that he was not surprised at the outcome of the sale. The publicity surrounding the event, he suggested, “may well be due to the fact that some of the articles were not provided with sufficient information” on their provenance.

This week, the Mexican government managed to stop a small sale of antiques that had taken place in Rome.

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