Cambodian farmers near the temple complex at Koh Ker knew that if they saw sculpted feet on a temple floor, it meant that looters had sawn off a statue at the ankles before shipping it abroad. Emma C. Bunker, a researcher with close ties to the trade, also knew that. In 2013, Sotheby’s repatriated a tenth-century footless statue that she advised them to auction. Most objects that she opined on sold without a problem.
Last August the Denver Art Museum (DAM), under pressure from the US government, returned four statues that were shown to have been looted from Cambodia. As many more works in its collection now come under suspicion, the role of Bunker, a donor and researcher who helped bring those objects to the museum, sheds new light on a notorious smuggling operation.
Those most recent revelations come from the Denver Post,
which traced how the DAM became what Bradley Gordon, a lawyer representing Cambodia, called a “laundromat” for looted sculpture from Cambodia and Thailand. The involvement of Bunker, once a mostly-unnamed link, brings fresh scrutiny from law enforcement and embarrassment for the museum.