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Miami Pastor Indicted after Sending Fake Damien Hirst Paintings to Sotheby’s

by Kyle Chayka on March 7, 2013

Installation shot from Hirst's 2012 Spot Paintings show at Gagosian in New York City (Photo by author)

Installation shot from Hirst’s 2012 Spot Paintings show at Gagosian in New York City (Photo by author)

Damien Hirst’s Spot and Spin series of paintings might look like endless repetitions of the same thing, but, unfortunately for one Miami pastor, it’s still possible to tell a real from a fake. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has indicted Kevin Sutherland on charges of attempted grand larceny for claiming that his “limited edition” Damien Hirst artworks and prints were real when they were decidedly not.

Sutherland is a pastor at Mosaic Miami Church, a thoroughly modern institution that visitors say is “not your grandma’s church.” Apparently Sutherland had pretty up-to-date taste in art as well: In December 2012, the pastor submitted a spin painting that he said was by Hirst to Sotheby’s, where it was being considered for sale in March 2013. He hinted to the auction house that he owned another spin painting as well, according to the DA’s official statement.

Sotheby’s then did their due diligence. In January 2013, Damien Hirst’s studio determined that the painting was counterfeit, and contacted the Manhattan authorities. A standard case of art fraud, it seems. But the story gets weirder.

After the discovery that the painting was fake, an undercover NYC detective set out to trap Sutherland in his lie. He emailed the pastor to inquire about the spin painting, and since Sotheby’s had refused the work, Sutherland seems to have jumped at the interest. He offered the detective two Hirst spin paintings and three limited edition spot prints, pricing the paintings at $120-$140,000. The seller got bargained down, however, to selling the whole bundle for $185,000. Sutherland later accepted a cash payment and was immediately arrested.

All of the works Sutherland claimed were authentic Hirsts turned out to be fakes, according to the artist’s studio. Given that Hirst only painted five out of the 300 spot paintings on display in his recent Gagosian extravaganza, maybe he could have made room for a few more not painted personally. The assistants might take offense, though — it’s their job Sutherland is taking, after all.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sutherland’s attorney Sanford Talkin says “there’s more to the story.” We can only hope that it involves an international spy network, a secret Damien Hirst double, and an art theft syndicate masquerading as a Florida church.

Homepage image: Parisian street art spotted by Vandalog.

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