French auctioneer rejects Mexico’s request to halt pre-Columbian artifacts sale

18/09/2019
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18:39
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Newsroom & Agencies
French auctioneer rejects Mexico’s request to halt pre-Columbian artifacts sale
Some of the pre-Collumbian artifacts auctioned in France – Photo: Taken from millon.com

French auctioneer rejects Mexico’s request to halt pre-Columbian artifacts sale

18/09/2019
18:39
Newsroom & Agencies
Mexico City
Antony Paone, Michaela Cabrera, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Richard Lough & Alexandra Hudson/REUTERS, AP, EFE, & Ariadna García/EL UNIVERSAL
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Despite Mexico’s efforts to recover over 100 pre-Columbian artifacts from its cultural heritage, and its call to the French government to take action in the case, auction house Millon proceeded with the sale amassing EUR €1.2 million

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On Wednesday, French auction house Millon denied accusations by the Mexican government that a sale of dozens of pre-Columbian artifacts was illegal and proceeded with an auction.

The auction of pre-Columbine art amassed EUR €1.2 million. The figurine of the goddess of water “Chalchihutlicue,” made from volcanic rock, was the most valued piece of the collection and was sold for EUR €377 thousand. While the figurine of the goddess of fertility and earth “Coatlicue,” was sold for EUR €97.5 thousand.

On Tuesday, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry (SRE) said that 95 of the 120 pieces on auction appear to be from Mexican cultures, including the emblematic pre-Columbian city of Teotihuacán, as well as the Olmeca and Maya cultures. The collection has masks and figurines valued in some cases up to USD $88,292.

On Wednesday, Millon president Alexandre Millon told Reuters that Manichak and Jean Aurance, listed as the owners of the artifacts, satisfied all the legal criteria to justify their ownership of the collection, which they amassed after falling in love with a piece in a Paris gallery in 1963.

“The problem for Mexico is that this collection is exemplary in every way: provenance, publications, and exhibitions it has featured in. That should make it a positive platform for Mexico”, Millon, said ahead of the auction.

The collection includes sculptures, masks, and religious artifacts from before 1000 BC up to the 18th Century A.D.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de @arts_premiers el

“(The Mexican government) should use this auction to say ‘Look at this sale, it’s ones like these that we need’ in an effort to stop other auctions which might not take the same precautions”, Millon continued.

“It is not our duty to judge the history or legitimacy of the claims, nor the moral in general, beyond the prism of a strictly legal frame,” added the president, who celebrated being able to proceed with the auction and who had warned that had it been stopped, he would have presented a claim for the caused damage.

The tensions over the pre-Columbian art pieces come amid a wider discussion over whether Western collectors and museums should return objects to their countries of origin. Collectors and museums often argue that there they lack adequate care.

Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron became the first Western leader to initiate a comprehensive review of artifacts looted during colonial times and promised to return 26 pieces to Benin.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Mexico’s ambassador to France Juan Manuel Gómez-Robledo said, “Mexico is the rightful owner of these artworks and we’ve come here to express our unhappiness and to explain why this violates not only Mexican law but also international law.”

The Mexican government asked the French auction house to halt the planned sale of a collection of about 120 pre-Columbian artifacts, mentioning some of them are fake and others should be returned to Mexico.

Regarding the genuine pieces, the SRE said such sales “encourage looting, illicit trafficking, and forgeries.” Buying or selling them for private collections “deprives archaeological pieces of the cultural, historic and symbolic essence, and reduces them to mere decorative objects.” It also undermines cooperation among states for the protection of cultural heritage and undercuts the integrity of cultures and of all humankind.

Mexico passed a law in 1972 prohibiting the export of such artifacts. It was unclear if the relics were taken from Mexico before then.

One stone fragment — reportedly a piece of a carved stone column from Guatemala — was removed from the sale by prior agreement.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Mexican government mentioned that, unfortunately, the commercialization of archeological pieces, such as the auction that took place today at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris is common in France and other places in Europe.

Last week, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) presented a claim against the owners of the pieces to recover them. The claim aimed to verify if the Interpol has classified any of these pieces as robbed, to stop the auction, and for France to assist Mexico in the case. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (FGR) sent a cooperation request to the French Justice Ministry under the current Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between both countries.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Mexico and France are parties of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970. Hence, Mexico has reported the situation to the Heritage Department of UNESCO so that it takes action before the Council of Voluntary Sales of Ownership in Public Auctions and the Millon society, with the objective of verifying the origin of the pieces.

“Mexico calls French authorities to cooperate, to effectively implement the established in UNESCO’s Convention and to contribute to the protection of the world’s cultural heritage,” said SRE.
 

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It also asked France to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Crimes concerning Cultural Property adopted in Nicosia in2017, of which Mexico is already one of the parties, with the will to find new forms of international cooperation to prevent and punish crimes included in the international convention and to fight the illegal trafficking of cultural property with the objective of protecting the nation’s heritage.

Mexico relied on the action of the French government, mainly because of the change of policies expressed by president Emmanuel Macron in November 2017 in a speech he gave at the Uagadugu University, where he said he could not accept “that great part of the cultural heritage of several African countries was in France.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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France’s ambassador in Mexico, Anne Grillo, said that there is a current legal process, requested by Mexico, regarding the auction of pre-Columbine pieces by Millon, but she could not further elaborate on it since the process was just started.

Interviewed in the SRE, where she participated in the announcement of the Generation Equality Forum, Grillo said that the auction was a private event, and highlighted that France understands the Mexican claim since both nations are committed to the fight against cultural property trafficking.

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