Sotheby's will move forward with its Paris sale of about 300 pre-Columbian antiquities, despite numerous objections from four Latin American countries citing cultural ownership.

Sotheby’s will move forward with its Paris sale of about 300 pre-Columbian antiquities.
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Sotheby’s says it will move forward with the sale of about 300 pre-Columbian antiquities in Paris this weekend despite concerns from four Latin American countries. Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru have all contacted the auction house with objections to the sale of items they believe to have been illegally exported from their home countries.

While the number of items that Costa Rica is laying claim to is unclear, the other three countries have all cited specific numbers of the pre-Columbian artifacts that they believe belong to them. Guatemala is disputing 13 of the items, Mexico is laying claim to 51 items, and Peru says 67 of the antiquities were taken illegally from its borders. All four countries are asking for the return of the items while citing cultural property laws.


Four Latin American countries have disputed items to be sold at the auction.
Image: Fotonium via Shutterstock

But Sotheby’s says it is confident that all of the items were obtained legally. Many of the pieces are part of the private Barbier-Mueller collection. The Barbier-Mueller Museum, which was founded in 1977, features a collection of over 7,000 pieces from so-called “primitive” civilizations from around the globe. Josef Mueller began collecting pre-Columbian works in 1920 and the tradition has been carried on through the family generations since. The museum has locations in Spain and Switzerland.

“We have had dialogue with several nations and given careful consideration to their concerns about this sale, and we continue to welcome discussion regarding any new information on specific issues,” said a statement from Sotheby’s regarding the sale of the pre-Columbian items.

“Over the course of the past six months, Sotheby’s thoroughly researched the provenance of this collection and we are confident in offering these works for auction.”

Sotheby’s estimates that the auction will generate somewhere between $19 and $24 million. Most of the items are valued at between $10,000 and $50,000, according to the New York Times Arts Beat. A few of the higher-tier pre-Columbian items are expected to bring in $2 million apiece.