"HEARTBREAKIING & SURREAL" -- HOPI ARTIFACTS AUCTIONED IN PARIS
A contested auction of sacred Hopi Indian artifacts went forward on April 12, 2013 in Paris and generated more than $1 million in sales, despite the presence of protesters inside and outside the auction house who urged patrons not to take part.
One featured item, a headdress known as the Crow Mother, drew intense interest. Bidding on this 1880s artifact, which had a high estimate of $80,000, soared to $210,000, drawing applause from a crowd of some 200 people in the sales room and protest from a woman who stood up and shouted: “Don’t purchase that. It is a sacred being.”
The sale of American Indian artifacts generated $1.2 million, including the buyer’s premium (the auction house’s fee), according to a spokeswoman for the seller, Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou. That is roughly what the house had estimated the sale would bring before the Hopi tribe lodged its complaints and the auction became the object of international scrutiny and diplomatic talks between the United States and French officials.
Five of the 70 items did not sell, and many pieces sold below the low estimate, but whatever hesitancy buyers showed toward some items was offset by the enthusiasm shown toward the featured piece.
A few hours before the sale, a Paris municipal court judge had ruled that it could go forward, finding that the masklike objects, despite their divine status among the Hopis, could not be likened to dead or alive beings. A lawyer for the Hopis had argued that the tribe believes that the works embody living spirits, making it immoral to sell them under French law. The Hopis say the artifacts, known as Katsinam, or “friends,” were stolen from tribal lands in Arizona. Many are more than a century old. The auction house has said that a French collector obtained them legally decades ago.
In a statement, the Hopi tribal chairman, LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, said: “Given the importance of these ceremonial objects to Hopi religion, you can understand why Hopis regard this — or any sale — as sacrilege, and why we regard an auction not as homage but as a desecration to our religion.” Before starting, the auctioneer, Gilles Néret-Minet, told the crowd that the sale had been found by a judge to be perfectly legal, and that the objects were no longer sacred but had become “important works of art.” He added, “In France you cannot just up and seize the property of a person that is lawfully his.”
Bo Lomahquahu, a Hopi tribe member and university exchange student who stood outside the auction, said the atmosphere inside was “very surreal and heartbreaking.”