The famed auction house plans to auction off masks, carved stones, and other figures by the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec, and Mixtec groups next week.

Por Alma Sacasa
Febrero 04, 2021

On Tuesday, Mexico asked the British auction house Christie's to cancel a sale planned for February 9 in Paris. Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History reviewed the items on sale and identified more than 30 as part of the country's cultural heritage dating back to the Mexico's pre-Hispanic era, and asked that they be returned. The NIAH also identified three items as fake.

Christie's plans to auction off masks, carved stones, and other items made by Aztec, Mayan, Toltec, and Mixtec groups, making a predicted $1.1 million in sales.

Diego Prieto, the director general of NIAH, said the institute filed a complaint on January 29 with the Mexican attorney general's office over the auction, and that the country's foreign ministry is trying to retrieve the items through diplomatic channels. During a virtual news conference, Prieto said "sacred" objects should not be for sale.

"There shouldn't be trade in national treasures," he said. "We are speaking of 33 objects that are linked to cultures or civilizations that flourished in Mexico. Of these 33 pieces, we have already determined that three are fake, while the rest do seem to meet conditions to prove their belonging to the original peoples of our territory that flourished before the arrival of European cultures."

For now, Christie's plans to move forward with the sale. A spokesperson for the auction house said the works "are being legitimately sold as part of a transparent and legally compliant public sale process" and that Christie's has "not been provided with any evidence that would challenge the lawfulness of the sale."

"Should Christie's be provided with such evidence, we would of course consider it seriously, carry out further investigation, and take any necessary measures including withdrawing any lot from the sale if we had any doubt about its provenance or its authenticity," a spokesperson told Hyperallergic.