Sep 19
News
An auction of pre-Columbian artifacts went ahead despite protests from Mexico and Guatemala.
Pre-Columbian artifacts on display at Drouot auction house in Paris ahead of a sale. Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

Pre-Columbian artifacts on display at Drouot auction house in Paris ahead of a sale. Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

Despite protests that some of the offered objects had been looted, a sale of pre-Columbian artifacts organized by Millon at Paris’s Drouot auction house went ahead largely as planned on Wednesday. Representatives of the governments of Guatemala and Mexico petitioned the auction house for the removal and restitution of certain artifacts. The 55th lot in the sale, a Mayan relief expected to fetch about €30,000 ($33,000), was withdrawn from the sale after Guatemala presented extensive documentation of its provenance dating back to its discovery in 1899.

However, demands on the eve of the auction by Mexico’s ambassador to France, Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, for 95 of the sale’s 122 lots to be returned were ignored. According to a report in The Art Newspaper, Robledo suggested that another 24 objects featured in the auction were actually fake, and said that Mexico had contacted UNESCO about the sale and requested France’s cooperation. He told Reuters: “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.”

With no legal action taken, the auction proceeded. Alexandre Millon referred to himself as the victim of “opportunistic cultural nationalism,” telling TAN that, “This kind of pressure is counter productive and can only encourage the black market.” Ultimately, the diplomatic tensions did little to dissuade buyers, and the sale brought in a total of €1.2 million ($1.3 million), twice its estimate, with a sell-through rate of 93 percent by lot.