Thursday 21 March 2013

Barbier-Mueller Collection 61% "Handicrafts"

Mexico is not demanding the repatriation of all the objects of Mexican origin in the 300-piece Barbier-Mueller Collection sale by Sotheby's scheduled in Paris for Friday and Saturday. The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History has identified 51 ancient pieces which it requests be withdrawn from the sale. It is not revealed which ones they are.  It is also implied that some of the other artefacts in the sale of items are fakes or imitations:

“Of the 130 objects advertised as being from Mexico, 51 are archaeological artifacts that are (Mexican) national property, and the rest are handicrafts,” the institute said in a statement.
Archaeologist Donna Yates was implying the same thing about some of the Barbier-Mueller pieces
...a lot of the items are exactly the sorts that have been (controversially) called fakes by Karen O. Bruhns and Nancy L. Kelker in Faking Ancient Mesoamerica and in Faking the Ancient Andes. I can certainly see how many of these things are just too perfect, too appealing, too modern, and totally unknown in the actual archaeological record. Take that with a grain of salt, but don't just accept these things are all 'real'.
Obviously if a collector is acquiring pieces from unclear sources, the only pedigree being that previously some collector, somewhere, for some reason had bought it and later, for some reason sold it, then they run a high risk of picking up fake artefacts. Sotheby's suggest that Barbier was a connoisseur with a connoisseur's eye for "art pieces", while the experts back in the source country - much more familiar than the collector or auctioneer with what archaeological objects genuinely coming from the ground in that country actually look like - say that both collector and auctioneer were duped and are now misrepresenting these items to the public. They also say that not even somebody like Sotheby's can actually tell the difference. It seems there are huge numbers of fakes on the current no-questions-asked antiquities market. Surely it is time for buyers to start asking more searching questions before parting with their cash.

Associated Press, 'Mexico demands Sotheby’s halt auction in Paris of pre-Hispanic artifacts from Mexico', Washington Post, March 21, 8:18 PM

Vignette: Mexico laughs at rich but incautious buyers.  

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