Mexican president angered by French artifact auctions
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president said Monday that French auction houses had gone beyond pallor with brazen sales of pre-Hispanic artifacts.
López Obrador said he had ordered the government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, known by its Spanish initials as INAH, to stop responding to such requests.
“They, the organizations that auction these coins, are so brazen that they request information from INAH, they send photos, so that INAH can tell them if they are genuine or fake,” López said. Obrador.
The president also lashed out at the French government, which has done nothing to stop a series of such auctions in recent years. López Obrador said the French should be more like the Italian government, which has made a point of identifying and returning ancient artifacts.
“It is very regrettable that the French government has not adopted legislation on this subject, as has been the case in Italy,” said López Obrador.
“We are going to elevate this to an international level. We managed to recover a lot of parts and it is very important,” said the president. “For example, Italy and the United States sent us a lot of parts.”
López Obrador said First Lady Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller had written to the French foreign minister asking for a halt to two upcoming sales of around 50 Mexican artifacts.
Parisian auction house Société Baecque et Associés is due to auction indigenous artefacts from around the world on February 9.
On February 11, the Binoche and Giquello Society is to auction off a variety of pre-Hispanic artifacts from across Latin America.
López Obrador said many of the pieces in those sales were fakes and asked potential buyers “not to act like criminals.”
The president and first lady have mounted a campaign to get artifacts from Maya, Aztec and other pre-Hispanic cultures back, and the president said 6,000 relics have been returned to Mexico so far.
But despite diplomatic letters and requests, Mexico has done little to convince the French to crack down on the lucrative trade.
The most recent occurred in November, when the Paris branch of Christie’s auctioned off 72 sculptures and figurines from the Maya and Olmec cultures despite Mexico’s claim that the pieces were national treasures and part of its national heritage. . Fifteen other items failed to sell.
A Mayan stone carving, traditionally known as an “axe” because of its shape, cost nearly $800,000. Christie’s catalog describes the piece as “sculpted in a sculptural manner with a bearded dignitary with his head thrown back dramatically and grappling with a mythical, meandering rattlesnake”.
Previously, Mexico had failed to stop several auctions, including a sale of pre-Hispanic sculptures and other artifacts by Christie’s Paris early last year.
Mexican archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, who oversaw the excavations of Mexico City’s Templo Mayor, wrote on his Twitter account at the time that “it’s a never-ending story”.
“It is proven that the old recurrent method of sending letters and requests has no effect, other than pretending that something is being done,” wrote López Lujan.
Parisian auction houses often sell indigenous artefacts that are already on the art market, despite protests from activists who say they should be sent back to their native lands. Christie’s said the Mayan sculpture, for example, was purchased by a European collector in the United States around 1970.
This appears to predate a 1972 Mexican law that prohibited the export or sale of significant archaeological or cultural artifacts.
López Obrador also criticized Austria for refusing to return a headdress that once belonged to one of the last Aztec emperors, saying Austria’s attitude was “selfish” and “anti-culture”.
The semi-circle of green feathers of the Quetzal bird and other species are over a meter wide, rather large for a headgear.
Held in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, López Obrador said the Austrians had argued that he was too fragile to be moved.
Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, gifted the feathered headdress to the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes in 1519. But Mexican officials admit that Montezuma probably never wore it personally.