Denver Art Museum to Return Antiquities Linked to Indicted Art Dealer and Collaborator

Denver Art Museum to Return Antiquities Linked to Indicted Art Dealer and Collaborator

The Denver Art Museum has announced its plans to repatriate nearly a dozen antiquities from Southeast Asia that have been linked to an indicted art dealer and his longtime collaborator. Senior provenance researcher Lori Iliff confirmed in a statement on Thursday that the 11 pieces will be returned to Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. The objects in question were found to have passed through the hands of Bunker, who played a significant role in Latchford’s illicit antiquities trafficking operation, as uncovered by The Denver Post in their published report in 2022.

The museum has publicly acknowledged for the first time that at least five of the pieces originally came from Latchford. Last year, the U.S. government moved to seize four of these pieces, which the Denver Art Museum had already acknowledged. Additionally, Latchford had loaned eight more objects to the museum over the years.

This announcement comes after The Denver Post reported five months ago that government officials from Southeast Asian countries had pressed the museum to return their stolen heritage. In response, the museum deaccessioned all 11 pieces from its collection in March 2023. Five of the relics were donated to the museum by Bunker in 2018 as part of a naming agreement, which was later revoked after The Post’s series exposed the illicit activities. The museum returned $185,000 that Bunker and her family had donated as part of the agreement.

The Denver Art Museum has been facing ongoing scrutiny and criticism for its association with Bunker and the questionable acquisition of its 7,000-piece Asian art collection. The museum was found to have been used as a conduit by Latchford and Bunker in their illicit activities. As part of a nationwide investigation into stolen art, U.S. law enforcement continues to probe the matter.

Federal investigators revealed that Latchford, who died in 2021 before standing trial, had marketed plundered Khmer artifacts to wealthy museums and collectors for decades. Bunker, a Colorado scholar, introduced Latchford to the museum and encouraged him to donate and sell ancient Khmer Empire statues. Although Bunker was never charged with a crime, she is named or referenced in five civil and criminal cases related to illicit antiquities.

The items set for repatriation include a 2,000-year-old green Vietnamese dagger from the ancient Dong Son culture, a pair of 12th-century iron palanquin hooks, a 13th-century bronze Buddhist sculpture, a bronze 12th-century finial, and a 12th-century figurine depicting Prajnaparamita, the Buddhist goddess of wisdom. Museum records indicate that Latchford held five of these relics in Bangkok before Bunker acquired them. Bunker then loaned or gifted them to the Denver Art Museum between 2004 and 2016. Five of the artifacts were also featured in Bunker and Latchford’s 2004 book, “Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” where they were attributed only to a “private American collection.” Experts believe that the co-authored works served to legitimize Latchford’s plundered collection and increase its value in private sales.

The Denver Art Museum has been actively returning items from its collection in recent years due to public pressure, increased attention from law enforcement, and media scrutiny. In September, the museum acknowledged its connection to disgraced New York City gallery owners Doris and Nancy Wiener, who collaborated closely with Latchford. The museum also revealed its connection to convicted antiquities smuggler Subhash Kapoor in 2022. Museum leadership has expressed concerns about accepting traveling exhibits without detailed provenance, as highlighted by their rejection of an ancient Greek exhibition from Florida due to a lack of provenance information.

CrimeDoor
Author: CrimeDoor

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