Mexico and Guatemala join Peru in claims against Barbier-Mueller Pre-Columbian art collection – UPDATED WITH SALE RESULTS
UPDATE3 : It’s over – the endurance test that was Sotheby’s auction of Pre-Columbian artifacts from the Barbier-Mueller collection ended as inauspiciously as it began – in the final session, 79 of 151 lots failed to sell. A smattering of bidders in the room and on the telephone purchased multiple lots, frequently for less than the low estimate (the final lot, estimated at €15,000-18,000 sold for a hammer price of €2,800!). The little Snood-like Mochica figure below (Lot 293), sold for a hammer price of €45,000 against a €20,000-25,000 estimate – one of the few works that elicited bidders’ interests.
A post-sale press release included the following:
Guillaume Cerutti, President-Directeur General, Sotheby’s France, said: “With a final total of more than €10 million, this sale established a new world record for a sale of Pre-Columbian Art. Despite having achieved less than expected, these results are good considering the context in which the sale unfolded [emphasis added]. High prices were achieved for the many iconic pieces which reflect the extraordinary quality of the collection.”
Perhaps potential buyer saw through Sotheby’s attempts to gloss over provenance issues with phrases like “this magnificent, century-old collection” and the “Collection has been widely exhibited and published.” Sotheby’s can claim a small victory for having sold the two highest estimated lots. However, in the end 165 of 313 lots failed and the sale will likely be judged a mess.
UPDATE 2: The second part of the sale concluded with 27 of 63 lots unsold. One telephone bidder purchased the two most expensive lots in the sale - Lot 137 and Lot 160 - along with Lot 144. Collectively those lots made a hammer price of €3.275 million (or €3,936,500 with the buyer’s premium).
UPDATE 1: The first part of the sale has just concluded. Results: of the 109 lots on offer, 59 failed to sell. Buyers are staying away in droves. Negative pre-sale publicity, specifically calls from three countries to repatriate works they allege to be looted, didn’t help. In addition, Mexico claims more than 50% of the works sourced from their country are “handicrafts” – i.e. fakes.
Sotheby’s March 22-23, 2013 sale in Paris of Pre-Columbian works from the Barbier-Mueller has gotten more controversial. Following Peru’s request for 67 items set to be sold, Guatemala, according the Agence France-Presse, has laid claim to 13 artifacts and Mexico, says el Regio, is calling for the return of 51 objects.
This is on top of the fact that nearly half the lots in the sale do not have a dated, pre-1970 provenance, according to the Chasing Aphrodite Web site.
A dated, pre-1970 provenance is slowly becoming a collector’s benchmark and is already recommended by the American Association of Museum Directors as a cut off date for acquisitions (though there is wiggle room). However, there are also individual national statutes with widley varying cut-off dates that govern the legal export and/or sale of antiquities. Nor does that pre-1970 criteria settle long term disputes about the acquisition of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles and the Benin Bronzes.
According to the Financial Times:
[The sale's] 313 lots, expected to realise about €20m, constitute one part of the Geneva-based Barbier-Mueller Collection, an extraordinary collection of collections begun by Josef Mueller (1887-1977) and then honed and expanded by his daughter Monique and her husband Jean Paul Barbier. It is a rare opportunity to acquire works of art that, in some cases, are the finest known – or only – examples of their type.
Here are a few more of the dozens and dozens of lots lacking a dated, pre-1970 provenance: