The Denver Art Museum says it is making research into artworks connected to Emma Bunker a “top priority” after a Denver Post investigation detailed how the longtime museum consultant used her scholarship to help an indicted dealer launder and sell looted relics around the globe.
Museum officials, in a statement posted to the institution’s website last week, also said they will use money from an acquisition fund launched after Bunker’s death last year to supplement ongoing work examining the ownership history of objects in the museum’s Asian art collection.
That fund raised $25,000 from family and friends and was initially created to help the museum purchase pieces for its galleries. After publication of The Post’s series, the museum removed the fund’s donation page from its website.
“The wide-ranging impact of the Bunker family is reflected in their name being present in many ways in our collections,” Christoph Heinrich, director of the Denver Art Museum, said in the statement. “This is not a history that can or should be easily erased. It needs to be thoroughly researched and clearly and publicly explained.”
The museum said it is “deeply troubled” by documents included in The Post’s stories about Bunker and her work with Douglas Latchford — many of which had been publicly available. The museum’s board of trustees will now determine the “best path forward in dealing with the Bunker Gallery in its Asian collection.”
“In the decades since the Latchford/Bunker antiquities arrived at the Denver Art Museum, acquisition and loan practices across the museum field, including those at the DAM, have evolved and improved,” museum officials said in their statement.
The museum’s first public statement on the Bunker controversy came two days after The Post’s editorial board called for the institution’s top brass to address the newspaper’s “Looted” series and to remove Bunker’s name from museum exhibits.
The Post found that Bunker spent years assisting Latchford, one of the world’s foremost antiquities collectors and dealers, as he peddled stolen antiquities around the world. A federal grand jury in 2019 indicted Latchford on a host of charges related to smuggling stolen art into the United States. He died in 2020 before he could stand trial.
The scholar, who spent six decades affiliated with the Denver Art Museum, helped Latchford falsify provenance documents — or ownership history — for relics known to be pillaged from Cambodia’s ancient temples, The Post found.
She’s named or referenced in five civil and criminal cases related to illicit antiquities dealings — though she never was charged or sued herself.
And it was her connections in Denver that allowed Latchford to use the Mile High City’s esteemed institution as a way station for looted goods. The Bangkok dealer sold, loaned or gifted more than a dozen pieces to the Denver Art Museum and used Bunker’s scholarship to market those pieces in future sales.
The museum this year gave back four Cambodian relics connected to Latchford and Bunker after federal authorities moved to seize them.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is currently investigating three pieces from Thailand that remain in the museum’s collection — including one that had been donated by Bunker.
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