Last week, the Mexican Ministry of Culture made an appeal for European galleries not to sell off precious Mexican artifacts. In its announcement, the ministry said it had identified more than 100 objects that were set to be sold in auctions in the following weeks at various auction houses, including Setdart in Barcelona, Carlo Bonte in Bruges, and Ader in Paris, as well as at the Vienna-based Galerie Zacke in Vienna.
“From the Government of Mexico, we strongly regret and condemn this sale, whose pieces constitute the property of the Nation, inalienable and imprescriptible, extracted without authorization and illegally from the national territory, as their export is prohibited by Mexican legislation since 1827,” the statement read.
For the most part, the ministry’s efforts failed. However, the piece held at Galerie Zacke will be repatriated, according to reporting from the German press agency dpa.
The work in question is a representation of the Aztec earth god Tlaltecuhtli from Veracruz. The artifact was set to be sold in Chinese art sale (despite it having no discernible relationship to that country) for an estimated €8,000 ($8,700). A representative for the gallery told dpa that, “in a gesture of compassion and corporate responsibility,” it had been able to arrange for the collector, who is from the United States, to repatriate the object.
Mexico has been increasingly active in pursuing repatriation. Officials in the country have launched a movement known as #MiPatrimonioNoSeVende (#MyHeritageIsNotForSale), which is aimed at discouraging people from buying and selling Mexican artifacts by explaining how important they are for Indigenous and national pride.
Mexican politicians have not always been successful in getting the world’s biggest auctions to pull artifacts from their sales, but their efforts have had some effect. Last month, a Dutch couple in possession of 17 Pre-Columbian artifacts returned their collection to Mexico after learning about the harms of collecting precious antiquities.