Mexican Museum Defends Collection Over Authenticity Concerns

A mockup of the Mexican Museum’s new location, which is expected to open in spring 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of the Mexican Museum)

San Francisco’s Mexican Museum is defending itself against criticisms surrounding the authenticity of some of its holdings.

In a press conference on Thursday, museum officials responded to reports alleging that more than 1,600 pieces from the institution’s pre-Hispanic collection were inauthentic or not deemed museum quality.

The original report was commissioned by the museum and published in June, and listed only 85 of the pre-Hispanic collection’s 1,774 holdings as fulfilling the requirements of “authenticity and a high degree of historical, artistic and/or cultural values.”

“Somebody thought that because it’s not going to be in the permanent exhibition, it’s false or a bad piece. But that’s not true. It means that we’re not going to use it in the permanent collection,” said Dr. Eduardo Perez de Heredia, a former professor and independent archaeologist who wrote the report.

Much of the conflict, according to Heredia, comes from a misinterpretation of his report. The small selection of pieces were approved for display, while the remainder must be further inspected using other dating techniques such as thermoluminescence or carbon dating.

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The Mexican Museum was originally founded in 1975 as a community museum by local artist Peter Rodriguez, who passed away last year from Parkinson’s disease. Its permanent collection of over 16,000 pieces was amassed largely with donations by private individuals.

The inspection of the Mexican Museum’s permanent collection is a consequence of the museum’s affiliation with the Smithsonian Institute in 2012. The museum's transition from the community level to "a world-class museum," according to Kluger, required an inspection of the Museum’s permanent collection to evaluate its legitimacy and value.

“Museums who go to a national level are required to go through this process. It’s a standard — a national and international standard — in the museum world,” said museum chairman Andrew Kluger.

But other academics remain hesitant at the overall quality of the Museum’s permanent collection.

“It (is) a very uneven collection that really needs a good curator to weed and manage the works,” said Dr. Nancy Kelker, an art history professor at Middle Tennessee State University. “But that is a common problem in a lot of museum collections, especially those that are built largely from donations from dilettante collectors.”

Researchers will inspect the museum’s five remaining collections, which include modern and contemporary art, and popular folk art. Anthropologist Marta Turok will lead the examination of the museum’s collection of popular and folk art.

“Until we finish this whole study by the professor, we won’t know what pieces are questionable,” said Kluger at the conference. “We’re not throwing this stuff away.”

Perez de Heredia said that he will continue working until the museum’s reopening in the Yerba Buena Gardens Art District in 2019.

Construction is underway for the new museum, which will be located next to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in Jessie Square. It will share the tower space with luxury condos built by Millennium Partners, a developer that funneled over $30 million for the museum’s renovation.

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