Southeast Asia Officials: Denver Art Museum Has Stolen Items

Southeast Asia Representatives Accused Denver Art Museum (DAM) for the Possession of Stolen Antiquities.

Aug 17, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Southeast Asia
The 146,000-square-foot Hamilton Building, the DAM. Courtesy of the museum.


Southeast Asia countries in question are Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Their representatives say the DAM still has stolen items and antiquities in its possession. These antiquities come from historic places in sites in Southeast Asia. This summer (June and May) representatives of Southeast Asian countries sent diplomatic letters to the institution about eight items. What did the museum say?


Southeast Asia Authorities Did Not Get a Response

Southeast Asia
The Martin Building. Courtesy of the museum.


The antiquities in question lack legal export permits. But, the DAM did not respond to their letter. Of total eight, which countries want returned, six came in the institution as a donation by by art scholar and former museum trustee Emma C. Bunker. Only one item came with some origin details. The statue in question is a 19th-century gilded bronze Buddha.


Bunker said she acuaired the statue in London eleven years ago from art dealer Jonathan Tucker. Despite not providing the institution with the name or contact details, Tucker informed DAM that he purchased the Buddha from a private English collection. Before her passing in 2021, she was a close friend with Douglas Latchford. Many evidence show he used to sell stolen artifacts to many museums and cultural institutions.


Vietnam dagger
This bronze dagger from Vietnam, gifted by Emma Bunker, is no longer on display at the Denver Art Museum after its return was sought by the Vietnamese government. PHOTO BY HYOUNG CHANG/THE DENVER POST


This is why many parts of his estate needed to be returned. Bunker and Latchford also worked together for ages in a smuggling scheme to legalise Khmer artefacts. Their ways included a preparation of a plan on how to create the fake signatures required for the import and selling of the artefacts. Also, authoring books that gave further reliance to Latchford’s looted objects, and personally vouching for items that Bunker knew to have falsified provenance documents.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


The DAM Took Some Meassures

maya lin vietnam veterans memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, West end of Constitution Gardens NW by Maya Lin, 2014, via Wikipedia


Attorney Bradley J. Gordon described Latchford as using DAM “like a laundromat” through the museum’s display of loaned and gifted items. This helped him him establish a clean reputation for his other pieces. In recent years, DAM has returned some of the looted items. The institution also removed Bunker’s name from a gallery wall in March. Also, returned $185,000 that the former trustee and her family had donated as part of a naming agreement.


DAM also ended an Asian art acquisition fund dedicated in Bunker’s honor after her death in 2021. However, DAM still holds more than 200 items from Bunker’s collection, with countries like Thailand and Vietnam requesting their return. The artifacts include a 2,000 year-old 9-inch-tall bronze dagger with a standing human figure on its handle and a 12th-century Buddha.


Douglas Latchford
Two objects from Douglas Latchford’s collection being repatriated to Cambodia. courtesy of the Royal Government of Cambodia.


“The museum has cooperated with the U.S. government, including producing all requested materials, and will continue to do so as it responds to the government’s inquiries in its ongoing work to ensure the integrity of its collections”, Kristy Bassuener ( DAM spokesperson) said.

Author Image

By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.