Report Claims 1,917 Artifacts in SF Mexican Museum Collection Cannot Be Authenticated

An object from Puebla/Central Mexico and dated to 900-1200 CE, featured in the “Fascination with Fauna” exhibition at San Francisco’s Mexican Museum. Instagram/Mexican Museum

A report evaluating the collection of San Francisco’s Mexican Museum has found that nearly all the institution’s pre-Hispanic and pre-Columbian objects are either fake or cannot be authenticated. The survey, which was commissioned by museum’s board of trustees and carried out by a team of curators from Mexico City, reveals that only 83 of the 2,000 objects in these categories could be considered “museum-quality,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Details of the survey were first published by UC Berkeley professor Lydia Chávez on the website Mission Local. The Mexican Museum, which was founded in 1975, has a collection of nearly 16,500 objects which range from pre-Hispanic to Modern and Contemporary Mexican, Latino and Chicano Art, according its website. However, many of the artifacts in its holdings were acquired through donation and often without authentication, according to the Chronicle.

“It happens all the time that museums accept things that are not real,” chair of the museum’s board of trustees and acting director Andrew Kluger told the Chronicle. “People donate pieces because their children don’t want them.”

The museum plans to carry out several additional authentication studies on the rest of its collection as part of a thorough and independent assessment requirement for the institution to become an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, which it did in 2012. Kluger says he expects the museum’s holdings in more recent categories to pass muster. “Most of it is good, and everything in the Latino art and Chicano art collection appears to be authentic.”

The museum’s collection of pre-Hispanic sculptures is due to grow thanks to a recent gift of nearly 86 objects from a Berkeley collection which have been authenticated, bringing the total tally of authentic objects in the category close to 170. As for the objects which were deemed fake or could not be authenticated, the museum plans to donate them to schools or other museums.