The Denver Art Museum has removed from its website an Asian art acquisition fund named in honor of Emma Bunker following a Denver Post investigation into the longtime museum consultant and board member.
The art museum last year launched the “Emma Cadwalader Bunker Asian Art Acquisition Fund” to honor the Colorado woman who spent decades helping the museum boost its collections.
But The Post’s investigation, published online Thursday, found that Bunker used her scholarship and writings to help an accused art smuggler, Douglas Latchford, sell and loan artwork that had been looted from Cambodia’s ancient temples. Over the past decade, Bunker — who died last year — was referred to or mentioned in five civil and criminal cases surrounding the sale of illicit antiquities — though she was never charged or sued herself.
Members of the public could still donate to the fund this week. But by Friday morning, the link to the Bunker fund’s donation page instead showed visitors a “Page Not Found” message.
“The fund was established at the request of friends of Emma Bunker who wanted to honor her at the time of her passing,” the museum said in an email Friday afternoon in response to a query from The Post. “The fund is no longer active.”
Andy Sinclair, a museum spokesperson, said in a follow-up email Friday night, about four hours after the publication of this story, that the museum closed the fund Sept. 30 and the fund’s promotional page had been removed from the website three months earlier, on June 30. A “back-end page” that included a payment function for the fund “was recently removed to reflect that the fund is no longer active,” she said.
Denver Art Museum officials declined multiple interview requests during the reporting of The Post’s series. Museum officials answered written questions from the newspaper last month, including specific queries about the fund named in Bunker’s honor — but made no mention that the fund had been shut down.
But it is far from clear that the @DenverArtMuseum is learning lessons and reforming its practices: unbelievably, it is now seeking donations to its "Emma Bunker Asian Art Acquisition Fund" pic.twitter.com/iY9AIyxOcU
— Angela S Chiu (@ChiuAngelaS) October 17, 2021
Bunker and her husband donated more than 200 pieces to the museum’s collection, many of which are still on display across its myriad galleries.
The museum last month told The Post that the acquisition fund raised $25,000 to purchase new pieces, and officials last year named the Southeast Asian art wing the “Bunker Gallery” to celebrate her decades of contributions.
Latchford, through Bunker’s connections, used the Denver Art Museum as a way station for looted art, The Post found. He sold, loaned or gifted 14 pieces to the museum between 1999 and 2011, using these placements to market his goods to wealthy collectors. Experts in the illicit antiquities trade say this practice helps legitimize stolen art.
The Denver Art Museum gave up four Cambodia pieces connected to Latchford last year after the U.S. Department of Justice moved to seize them.
Now federal investigators are probing the origins of three Thai pieces in the museum’s collection. Those include two statues from the so-called “Prakhon Chai hoard” that, according to local villagers, had been pillaged and sold by Latchford some 50 years ago.
A third piece — gifted to the museum by Bunker — is also under investigation.
Updated 11:30 a.m. Dec. 3, 2022 This story has been updated to include an additional statement from the Denver Art Museum.