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Damage to statue stains Mexico City

| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — The 211-year-old equestrian statue of Spanish King Carlos IV, known to generations of Mexicans as El Caballito, is one of their nation's most famous and storied works of public art.

Today, it stands on a picturesque square in the capital, discolored and allegedly damaged by a careless restoration team — a casualty, officials say, of an act of monumental boneheadedness.

Last week, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History issued a report alleging that a botched restoration job ordered by the city government has resulted in “irreversible damage” to the historic bronze, which was cast before Napoleon declared himself emperor of France.

Experts claimed they found the culprit on scaffolding at the work site: a bucket containing a 60 percent nitric acid solution. The use of such stuff, they said, has been known for decades to be a bad choice for metal restoration work, and its application has caused new corrosion and discoloration, affecting more than half the surface of the three-story-tall El Caballito.

The institute has pledged to bring legal action against the contractor, Marina Monument Restoration. King Carlos' newly splotched face has appeared on the front pages of the major newspapers. And Mexicans, who tend to be as proud of their history and culture as they are wary of their government, have reacted with collective exasperation.

The scandal is proof, if any was needed, that art restorers are the field-goal kickers of the culture world — specialists whose work tends to go largely unnoticed until they shank a big one.

In this case, however, the owner of the restoration company, Arturo Javier Marina Othon, is pushing back. In a public statement, he said the stains were ancient, his methods were justified, and the story had more to do with a government too dysfunctional to care for its cultural heritage.

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