Denver Art Museum returns four antiques to Cambodia after Pandora papers reveal illicit origins
The Denver Art Museum will return four Cambodian antiques linked to the late art dealer Douglas Latchford, whose efforts to cover up the illicit origins of works in his collection were revealed in the Pandora Papers.
The Denver Art Museum is one of 10 museums in possession of works sold or donated by Latchford. During their investigation into Latchford’s offshore financial activities, journalists working on the massive data breach contacted museum officials regarding items linked to the disgraced dealer, who was indicted in 2019 for selling art looted.
The Denver Museum’s ties to Latchford had been under scrutiny for years. In a statement to Washington post, a spokesperson said the institution had been in contact with Cambodian officials about the four items from Cambodia since the dealer was charged in 2019. But it is only recently that the return process has begin.
Two additional works in the collection originating in Thailand – an 18th or 19th century cabinet and a Neolithic vessel – which also passed into Latchford’s hands are currently under investigation to determine whether they were acquired legally or not. (At the time of going to press, the Denver Art Museum had not responded to questions from Artnet News.)
In an interview with the Denver Post, Bradley J. Gordon, a lawyer for the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the museum had also ignored government requests for documents relating to the provenance and ownership of the works, reflecting a wider reluctance to return artefacts to a nation subjected to rampant looting during civil wars and unrest in the 1970s and 1980s.
Latchford died in 2020, just months after the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York accused him of trafficking in artifacts looted from the Khmer Empire in Cambodia.
New evidence of Latchford’s shady deals has been uncovered among the 11.9 million documents in the Pandora Papers, which the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists obtained from an anonymous source.
Latchford is said to have established trusts in tax havens to mask the movement of looted antiques. The two trusts, named after the Hindu gods Skanda and Siva, were located on the island of Jersey, in the Channel Islands between England and France. The trusts are said to have owned Khmer treasures such as a looted $ 1.5 million Naga Buddha.
Latchford was first accused of buying a pair of 10th century warrior statues from a looter ring in 2012, when one of the works went to trial after being offered at Sotheby’s At New York. At the time, the Chasing Aphrodite blog posted a detailed list of Latchford’s works at the Denver Art Museum.
There are other links between Latchford and Denver. The self-proclaimed scholar-adventurer published three books on Khmer art with Emma C. Bunker, a Colorado scholar and art teacher who was a former board member of the Denver Art Museum. (Bunker passed away earlier this year.)
Latchford’s books earned him fame as a specialist in Cambodian antiques and, prosecutors said, provided the looted items with a veneer of legitimacy that helped facilitate their sale.
Latchford and Bunker have both been accused of providing false sources to New York gallery owner Nancy Wiener, who was arrested in 2016 for conspiring to buy and sell looted antiques in East Asia. The Denver Art Museum had announced the return Torso of Rama, a six-foot-tall 10th-century sandstone sculpture acquired from Wiener’s Mother’s Gallery, just days before federal authorities raided the merchant’s business.
Latchford reportedly sold at least one artifact named in his 2019 indictment to an unidentified “Colorado museum” in 2000. This now appears to be the Denver Art Museum’s Prajnaparamita sculpture, a 12th-century sandstone piece that according to Google Arts and Culture, has always been purchased in Honor of the Bunker. (The list of the work has been removed from the museum’s website.)
Latchford is also linked with a number of other prestigious institutions. There are five works he once owned in the British Museum, three in the Cleveland Museum of Art and 12 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, up from 14, after the museum repatriated a pair of sculptures looted from the Koh Ker temple. . resort in Cambodia in 2013.
“The Met has long been examining objects entered into the collection through Douglas Latchford and his associates,” a spokesperson for the museum told Artnet News in an email. “The Met also has a long and well-documented history of responding to complaints about works of art, returning items where appropriate, being transparent about the provenance of works in the collection.”
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