City evicts ancient art collection after 12 years in BioPark storage

More than a decade after it first arrived in Albuquerque, the city has now bid farewell to a massive collection of heavy Asian artifacts that have kept a BioPark building shuttered for years. 

Contractors moved 85 tons of rare antiquities from the city’s Botanic Gardens Saturday and Sunday, putting an end to artwork loan that turned into an indefinite storage problem for the city of Albuquerque. 

“I’m happy that we can look at a problem, and come up with a solution,” said Dr. Shelle Sanchez, director of the city’s Cultural Services Department under Mayor Tim Keller. 

The statues were recently the subject of a Larry Barker investigation

This weekend’s move of the 16 ancient Korean and Chinese and sculptures brings closure what has been 12-years of free storage and liability risks on to the city for housing the statues. 

“It is definitely something that we wanted to solve because it’s been an ongoing issue,’” said Dr. Sanchez. 

Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez’s administration accepted the statues in 2006 from their owner, Japanese businessman Hitoshi Hoshi. Worth tens of millions of dollars, the artifacts were put on display in the city. 

But when it came time to take the statues back, despite scores of letters, emails, and meetings, Hoshi family members refused to take possession of the valuable relics. No one at the city has seen or heard from Hitoshi Hoshi himself in years. 

A 2014 Larry Barker investigation first exposed the problem. In 2017, Albuquerque’s then-Cultural Services Director Dana Feldman (under Mayor Richard Berry) threatened to have the artifacts moved from locked storage to display at the zoo’s Asian elephant exhibit.  

The incoming Keller administration decided not to put the statues on public display. Instead, the city threatened the Hoshi family with a 65-day warning to either move the property or consider it abandoned. 

Facing the deadline, the Hoshi family finally moved the carvings into private storage over the weekend. 

The move finally gives the city full access to the showroom where they’ve been stored since 2006. 

“The education staff and the outreach staff at the Botanic Gardens are thrilled to have the space back because, it’s one of the few spaces over there where they can do education programs,” said Dr. Sanchez. 

While the city has finally gotten rid of the carvings, KRQE News 13 has learned that two of the statues didn’t go far. 

Inside UNM’s new downtown Rain Forest building on Broadway, two of the Hoshi collection statues have found a new home under the university’s care. 

KRQE News 13 asked UNM why they would take the donation of the two statues knowing there are questions about where they first came from. A spokesperson for UNM said it would have to look into it. 

KRQE News 13 attempted to contact a representative of the Hoshi family for comment Monday but did not hear back.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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