Vincent van Gogh's Women Picking Olives, 1889. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Guatemalan Government Illegally Exported Ancient Mayan Throne for Met Exhibit, Indigenous Communities Say


scathing public letter signed by the Guatemalan Collective for the Defense of Heritage claims a Mayan throne was illegally exported to New York’s Museum of Metropolitan Art against the will of “Indigenous organizations, institutions and archeologists.”

The work, titled Throne I, was sent to the Met for restoration, after which it went on view for the museum’s exhibition Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art. Guatemalan officials granted a “rare temporary export authorization” for the eight-century throne and a similarly dated panel as part of a “reciprocal loan agreement” with the museum, The Art Newspaper reported Wednesday.

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“We are vigilant of the actions of the corrupt rulers, of the excesses they carry out, who twist the laws when they see fit and apply them severely against individual and collective human rights defenders in this country,” the letter reads.

Carolyn Riccardelli, a conservator at the Met who oversaw the restorations, told The Art Newspaper the museum “worked closely with Guatemalan officials and Maya communities throughout the restoration process.” 

The opposing groups say a complaint that was filed with the Guatemalan cultural heritage prosecutor’s office was dismissed. The letter calls for both artifacts to be returned and placed in a “special protected place” in Guatemala’s National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology.

“The future of archaeology, conservation and art history is very much rooted in collaborative projects,” Joanne Pillsbury, the Met’s curator of ancient American art told The Art Newspaper, which reported that the throne arrived at the Met caked with dust and mounted on concrete, its front legs attached backwards since it was excavated and reassembled in the 1930s by archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art did not immediately respond for a request to comment.



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