Denver Art Museum Must Respond to ‘Looted’ Antiques Scandal

The Denver Post’s Sam Tabachnik exposed the dark underbelly of America’s vast international art collection housed in museums, universities, and private homes across the country in the three-part series, “Looted: Stolen relics, laundered art and a Colorado Scholar’s role in the illicit antiquities trade.

As the title suggests, Tabachnik uncovered a network of plunder that for decades deprived Southeast Asians of an important part of their art, heritage and culture.

And at the center of the artwork was a Denver woman known as “The Scholar,” accused of working hand-in-hand with an art dealer to cover up the ways of ill-gotten statutes featuring houses of auction, private buyers and museums. with the necessary burst of legitimacy.

Photo by Athikhom Saengchai/Denver Post Special

The sun sets over the Phanom Rung temple in northeast Thailand on November 4, 2022. Artifacts removed from the historic site are now in museums outside of Thailand.

We’ve heard rumors that the Denver Art Museum is one of the worst institutions in America in terms of willingness to accept looted and looted art. But the Post’s investigation was the first time hard evidence of such bad behavior has been presented so clearly and irrefutably.

We are appalled that Christoph Heinrich, director of the Denver Art Museum, has not publicly responded to the scandal. We’re concerned that the institution is hoping the storm will calm down without having to consider the fact that not only does the museum house artwork that was likely smuggled into the United States by art dealer Douglas Latchford, then legitimized by scholar Emma C. Bunker, but the Denver Art Museum’s complicity also helped give these two people legitimacy in the eyes of other buyers.

“The Denver Art Museum became one of Latchford’s main landing spots as it sought to restore its reputation,” the Post’s investigation revealed. “The institution housed more of his looted pieces than any other collection except the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,” the ‘Pandora Papers’ investigation revealed last year.

“In total, the Denver Museum has spent more than half a million dollars on Latchford pieces, and it has lent, gifted, or sold the museum more than a dozen ancient artifacts – offerings made possible and conducted by Bunker, court records and previously unreported emails. View.”

This is not a scandal that Heinrich can ignore.

He should immediately commit to removing Bunker’s name from exhibits and commit to reviewing the process for acquiring Latchford and Bunker-related artwork. The Denver Art Museum has received high praise in recent years for returning four statues looted from Cambodia.

But the action rings hollow now that we know that Cambodian authorities requested an archive from the Denver Art Museum for all the pieces from Latchford and Bunker and the museum failed to respond to the request after 18 months.

It wasn’t until the investigation was complete that the museum took steps to distance itself from Bunker, whose name appears in The Bunker Gallery section of the Denver Art Museum’s Southeast Asia gallery.

The Bunker Gallery section of the Denver Art Museum's Southeast Asian Art Galleries at the Martin Building is pictured Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Photo by Hyoung Chang/Denver Post

The Bunker Gallery section of the Denver Art Museum’s Southeast Asian Art Galleries at the Martin Building is pictured Tuesday, October 25, 2022.

Because Latchford and Bunker died before investigations and potential prosecutions of their criminal actions could be completed, it is now up to the museums to complete their own investigation into the art.

Museum officials responded to questions from the Denver Post via email and said they had not cooperated directly with Cambodian officials on any other items outside of the four already returned, as the museum provided “all records at the DOJ regarding returned parts.”

But it’s not the information that’s needed – there are other things involved.

The Post reported that “Latchford loaned, gifted or sold 14 pieces to the Denver Museum between 1999 and 2011, according to museum records. They included the four relics returned to Cambodia in August and two objects from Thailand – a Neolithic vessel and cabinet – which remain in the museum’s collection.

There’s a lot more to write about the Looted investigation than we can cover here.

If all this seems insignificant amidst greater parodies in a world of billions of people, consider the great difficulty and barriers preventing Cambodians from visiting the United States to see these exquisite relics of their own culture and history.

We were hit hard by a quote from Hab Touch, the deputy director of the National Museum of Cambodia, which appeared in a 495-page book written by Latchford and Bunker documenting many of the artworks that had passed through their hands.

“The first time I saw the photographs of Khmer sculptures gathered by Emma and Douglas for this book, I realized that although I work with Khmer art daily, I only knew a small part of what exists,” writes Touch.

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