According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, the sculpture of a Mayan soldier that sold for more than $4 million at a recent Paris auction a few days ago is a fake. More than a century ago, P.T. Barnum allegedly spoke of suckers being born every minute, but it would appear that expression applies even in the high tech, sophisticated and erudite art cosmos of today.
Represented by a private collector as a unique work of Pre-Columbian art from circa 550 to 950 AD, the masked, stone figure sold on Monday for 2.9 million euros ($4.1 million)
But Mexican experts after carefully studying the auction catalogue, recognized inconsistencies in the sculpture of the warrior holding a shield and wearing a turban. Although skillfully detailed and carefully carved, the height of the statue, the posture of the flexed legs and the bootstraps were inimical to other sculptures of the period. Authorities also detected 66 other fake pieces in the same catalogue.
The ancient Mayan culture and its vast scientific and artistic legacy is one of the richest in the world, and the symbols utilized in their sculptures were very complex, each indicating one unique element in a narrative comprised of many parts.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry contacted the French auction house, Drouot, prior to the auction to alert it to the fraud, but auction experts maintain that the sculpted figure is more than 1,000 years old and is completely genuine.
The good news may well be that it is still as difficult as ever to get away with fooling the public even though it is clear that sometimes it can happen. Even smiling down from the stone face of an ancient sculpture, crime does not pay.
Caveat emptor, always and forever.