Mexico Asks Auction House Christie’s To Halt Sale of Mexican Artifacts

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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On Tuesday (Feb. 2), the Mexican government requested that famed auction house Christie’s halt a sale of over 30 artifacts dating back to the pre-Columbian era (pre-Hispanic is not an actual era but rather a defaulted name for anytime after the Spanish colonization of Mexico, the actual name is pre-Columbian). Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) reviewed the items on sale and identified 32 as part of the country’s “cultural heritage.”

The items scheduled for auction in Paris on February 9th include masks, carved stones and other figures by Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and Mixtec cultures. Some of the most sought after, and important pieces of Mexican culture, like a greenstone Teotihuacan Serpentine mask, dating from circa 450-650 AD, and a sculpture of Cihuateotl, a goddess of fertility in Aztec culture are included in the items getting ready for auction.

INAH director, Diego Prieto, filed a complaint with Mexico’s Attorney General office. “There shouldn’t be trade in national treasures,” he said. Prieto also remarked that Mexico’s foreign ministry is trying to retrieve the items.

The items are projected to command high prices, with one item alone being valued at $1.1 million dollars.

The debate over pieces of lost Mexican and other Latin American art and who has a right to “own” them was questioned in Museo, a film released in 2018 and stars Gael Garcia Bernal. The film depicts a fictionalized account of the real life 1985 Christmas Day heist, where Bernal’s character questions who are the true keepers of history. With Christie’s proposed auction and their lack of response to Mexican officials, that question is brought to light once more.