A ROW has erupted after another attempt by South American interests to intervene in a tribal art sale in Paris.
Shortly after a monumental painted stucco statue of a Mayan
divinity took a record €2.5m hammer (£2.27m) in Paris last week,
Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History announced
that it thought the statue was a recent fake.
Paris auction house Binoche et Giquello, who sold it as part of
the collection of the Swiss industrialist Monsieur H. Law on March
21, had catalogued the piece as made in the Rio Bec or Chenes
Province of Mexico around 550-950AD.
Jacques Blazy, the tribal art expert who worked with the auction
house on cataloguing the statue, and had been fielding numerous
press enquiries after the Mexican government's announcement
generated international media interest, was robust in his defence
of the statue last week.
He said that there was "no problem of authenticity", that the
piece (which has a provenance back to 1976) has been extensively
published and exhibited, most recently in 1998-9 in the Rath Museum
in Geneva. It has been seen by many experts around the world and
has never been questioned before.
He also said that the piece had been on view for a month before
the auction and that the Mexican authorities had not questioned it
during that time, only making their announcement after the record
This is the latest controversy in a series of events in France
relating to the sensitivity of Mexico and other South American
countries to sales of their cultural heritage.
In September 2008 the Mexican Embassy obtained a court order to
halt the disposal of 85 lots in a sale of Pre-Columbian art mounted
by the same Parisian auctioneers in conjunction with auction house
Pierre Bergé, claiming the goods had been illegally exported.
The lots were seized by the Office Central de la Lutte Contre le
Trafic des Beins Culturels (the French bureau against trafficking
in cultural goods) and were impounded pending a judicial inquiry
which lasted months, although Binoche and Giquello were finally
allowed to sell the goods in June 2010.
The Mayan statue currently in question was the stand-out item in
a 215-lot sale of predominantly carved stone and terracotta figures
assembled by a collector over a 25-year period which raised a total
of over €7.4m/£6.73m (including premium).
It stands 5ft 1in (1.56m) high and is the largest Mayan statue
of this form so far recorded.
Made of stucco around a stone core and retaining a high
proportion of its original polychrome decoration, its seated
position implies it would originally have been placed on a chair or
Sporting a large blue-painted, turban-like hat and a mask of
terrifying aspect, the figure holds a battle axe in one hand and in
the other a blue-painted shield with an orange centre, perhaps
emblematic of the sun.
The piece was acquired by the collector from the Galerie Mermoz,
the specialist Parisian tribal art dealer, who had exhibited the
piece at the Paris Biennale in 1986. Prior to that it was
in the collection of Alphons Jax.