Bonhams’ New York auction scheduled for Wednesday includes about 155 sculptures, ceramic vessels and other artifacts from the Aztec, Mayan and other cultures.
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said Friday it had asked Bonhams to withdraw the pieces. It added it plans legal measures to recover the genuine ones.
The auction house referred questions on the catalog to a woman in St. Louis, who said she knew about only two pieces in the auction, both of which she said were from Guatemala.
The institute said its experts had studied the catalog and found a quarter of the items to be “recently made reproductions, that is, fakes.”
“The rest are national heritage pieces,” it said.
It said it has been working with Mexican prosecutors starting in mid-October to “implement the legal and diplomatic measures to recover” the artifacts.
Some of the pieces belong to the Scott and Stuart Gentling Collection, put together by two private collectors, and the provenance of many pieces is simply listed as “acquired prior to 1980.”
Others are listed as having been purchased at public auctions in the past.
Under a 1972 law, Mexico prohibited the purchase and sale of archaeological pieces, but allowed some previously existing collections to remain in private hands if they were registered with the government.
Mexico has demanded the halt of auctions in the past, with mixed results.
In 2013, the Mexican government demanded that Sotheby’s auction house and the French government halt the planned sale of 51 pre-Columbian artifacts that were part of 300-piece Barbier-Mueller Collection. The auction went ahead anyway.