Despite fierce opposition from their original owners, 70 masks from the Native American Hopi tribe sold at auction in Paris on April 12.
Legal representatives for the Hopi called upon French judges for the auction to be cancelled, yet the collection realised a total of $930,000 with many selling far above estimate. The top-selling mask brought an impressive $209,731, more than three times its pre-sale valuation.
The masks, known as kachina friends, are representative of spirit characters in traditional Hopi theology. To the Hopi they are sacred, as a medium through which the living can communicate with the dead.
The sale of Native American artefacts designated "sacred" has been illegal in the United States since 1990, but the law has not been applied in other countries. Auction house Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou has stated that one mask was bought by an association to be given back to the Hopi tribe.
Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou also commented that blocking the sale would have had a knock-on effect on the collectibles business, possibly resulting in no further sales of indigenous art in France.
On June 3 in San Francisco, Bonhams will offer the Jim and Lauris Phillips Collection of Native American art, led by a second phase Navajo blanket.
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