Hopi masks snapped up after French court allows sale

Fri Apr 12, 2013 2:11pm EDT
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By Tara Oakes

PARIS (Reuters) - An auction of ancient masks revered as sacred by a Native American tribe fetched more than 750,000 euros on Friday, disappointing prominent opponents of the sale after a French court ruled it should go ahead.

The Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona and supporters including the U.S. ambassador to France and actor Robert Redford had urged the Paris auction house to suspend the sale due to the masks' cultural and religious significance.

But the court rejected a motion from the tribe and Survival International, a non-government group representing its interests, arguing that it could only intervene to protect human remains or living beings.

The auction went ahead in front of a standing-room only crowd, raising about 752,000 euros ($984,500) in pre-tax proceeds as collectors snapped up dozens of lots in a sale that lasted more than two hours.

The most expensive, a crow-mother mask, went for 160,000 euros.

A buyer who acquired four masks said he was delighted to be adding to his collection of Hopi artefacts.

"One day I might give some back," said the collector, who declined to be identified. "But if it had not been for collectors in the 19th century who contributed to the field of ethnology, there would very little knowledge of the Hopi."

Some disagreed. A man with Hopi origins studying in France was kicked out of the auction room for interrupting the sale with an angry speech. Several people trying to take photographs were also removed.   Continued...

A visitor looks at antique tribal masks revered as sacred ritual artifacts by a Native American tribe in Arizona which are displayed at an auction house in Paris April 11, 2013. REUTERS/John Schults