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Denver Art Museum to return 11 antiquities tied to indicted dealer Douglas Latchford or collaborator Emma C. Bunker

The Denver Art Museum plans to return nearly a dozen antiquities from Southeast Asia that passed through the hands of indicted art dealer Douglas Latchford or his longtime Colorado collaborator, Emma C. Bunker.

The 11 pieces soon will be repatriated to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, senior provenance researcher Lori Iliff wrote in an announcement on the museum’s website Thursday.

All of the objects came from Bunker, who played a critical role in Latchford’s decades-long illicit antiquities trafficking operation, The Denver Post found in a three-part investigation published in 2022.

At least five of the pieces passed through Latchford’s hands originally, the museum publicly acknowledged for the first time by publishing provenance information for each of the objects now being returned.

Officials at the Denver Art Museum previously had acknowledged six Latchford pieces in the institution’s permanent collection, four of which were returned to Cambodia last year after the U.S. government moved to seize them. Latchford had also loaned an additional eight objects to the museum over the years.

The Denver Art Museum’s announcement comes five months after The Post reported that government officials from the three Southeast Asian had pressed the institution last year to return their stolen heritage. The museum last March deaccessioned — or formally removed from its collection — all 11 pieces.

Bunker donated five of the relics to the museum in 2018 as part of a naming agreement that would cement her legacy with the Mile High institution she worked closely with for six decades. She and her husband both served on the museum’s board of trustees, and Bunker spent many years as a research consultant, connecting the museum with notable antiquities dealers such as Latchford.

But after The Post’s series in December 2022, the museum removed Bunker’s name from its gallery wall and returned $185,000 that she and her family had donated as part of the naming agreement. Museum officials acknowledged for the first time in March 2023 that Bunker helped Latchford mislead the museum into acquiring illegally trafficked art.

The latest news comes as the Denver Art Museum continues to face fallout from its association with Bunker and subsequent reckoning over how it collected its 7,000-piece Asian art collection. The Post found Latchford and Bunker used the museum as a way station for looted works.

U.S. law enforcement, meanwhile, continues to probe the museum’s Southeast Asian collection as part of a nationwide investigation into stolen art.

Federal investigators, in Latchford’s 2019 indictment, said the Bangkok-based dealer spent decades marketing plundered Khmer artifacts to wealthy museums and collectors. Latchford, who died in 2020 before he could stand trial, found an especially eager taker in Denver through his connections to Bunker.

The Colorado scholar, who died in 2021, introduced Latchford to the museum and encouraged him to donate and sell magnificent statues from the ancient Khmer Empire, which date back nearly a thousand years. She was never charged with a crime, though she’s 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 show Latchford held five of the relics in Bangkok before Bunker acquired them. She then loaned or gifted them to Denver’s museum between 2004 and 2016.

Five of the artifacts also appeared in Bunker and Latchford’s 2004 book “Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art.” They’re attributed only to a “private American collection.”

The pair co-authored three works in all, which experts say played an important role in legitimizing Latchford’s plundered collection and boosting its value in private sales.

The Denver Art Museum has been steadily returning items from its collection in recent years, prompted by increased public pressure and attention from law enforcement and the media.

The museum in September said it had returned five Asian artworks connected to disgraced New York City gallery owners Doris and Nancy Wiener, both of whom collaborated closely with Latchford. In 2022, the museum gave back 22 pieces connected to convicted antiquities smuggler Subhash Kapoor.

Leadership has also expressed trepidation over traveling exhibits lacking provenance. Denver museum officials last year balked at accepting an ancient Greek exhibition from Florida because many of the 57 artifacts lacked detailed provenances, The New York Times reported in September.

Denver, the museum’s director wrote in a letter, had “experienced recent negative press for a small number of our legacy collections and associations with red flag dealers.”

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