In recent art news, longtime collaborators and respected art scholars, Emma C. Bunker and Douglas A. J. Latchford, who had become authorities on Southeast Asian antiquities in which their approval could virtually guarantee an ancient object’s value and legitimacy, have become entangled in a criminal lawsuit filed by the Manhattan district attorney last December in New York as “Co-Conspirator No. 1” and “Co-Conspirator No. 2.” Although neither expert has been charged and neither is named in the complaint, it was reported that people familiar with the case have confirmed their identities.
The collaborators and longtime friends authored three seminal volumes, namely, “Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” “Khmer Gold” and “Khmer Bronzes,” which are regarded as core reference works for other experts.
The complaint alleges that “over a period of years the co-conspirators and others helped a prominent New York gallery owner, Nancy Wiener, falsify the documentary history of looted Cambodian relics, making them easier to market.” A federal agent said in the complaint that “[m]isrepresenting the true provenance of an antiquity is essential for selling stolen items in the market.”
In the criminal suit, Wiener, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of using her business “to buy, smuggle, launder and sell millions of dollars worth of antiquities stolen from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.”
While the accusations in this case are hardly new in the history of art fraud, experts comment that this case
highlights the vulnerabilities of the art world, where authenticity and ownership disputes are common and where scholarship, and the people who can wield it, often provide the imprimatur that dealers need to close sales.”
Neither Bunker nor Latchford have responded to news media requests for an interview. However, Latchford has denied any wrongdoing in previous interviews and defended his collecting practices as the “norm for an era when far less rigor was attached to provenance and sales documents.”
For additional information regarding this intriguing case, see “Expert Opinion or Elaborate Ruse? Scrutiny for Scholars’ Role in Art Sales,” published online by the New York Times on March 30, 2017.