A Florida pastor has been sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation for attempting to sell fake Damien Hirst paintings to an undercover police officer.
Kevin Sutherland bought the works from Vincent Lopreto, an art dealer who, it turns out, has sold numerous forgeries of Hirst’s paintings on eBay. When the amateur collector approached Sotheby’s last December about selling a spin painting, the auction house raised concerns over its authenticity, and by late January Hirst’s studio in London had confirmed it to be a fake. When Sutherland heard that there were ‘problems’ with the authentification he wasted no time in contacting a potential buyer, offering to sell the work and four others for a total of $185,000. Unfortunately for him, that ‘buyer’ was a New York police officer, who had approached him directly after Sotheby’s informed the department of the forgery.
All of which paints a pretty spin picture of its own, another notorious episode in the history of Hirst, which in a sense thrives off such stories as this. Of course, a crime is a crime, and Sutherland’s efforts to sell for a profit works whose authenticity he knew to be in question was a calculated – if relatively understandable – attempt to pass the buck(s) on to another unlucky customer. But commentators have been quick to point out the fact that authenticity is hardly Hirst’s own strong point. The artist’s work brazenly pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a ‘signature’ work of art: his spot paintings are made, for the most part, by assistants, churned out in factory colours and quantities, reproduced as prints and editions, and deliberately downplay all traditional notions of the artist’s hand.
The BBC reported that ‘Sutherland said he was just a novice who got confusing messages about the authenticity of the paintings.’ So might we all. And as large numbers of speculative buyers try to catch a lift on the contemporary art bubble before it pops – navigating a market that is increasingly operating online, where all the pixelated spots look much the same – it’s surely not the last such incident to make the press. One thing’s for sure though, it won’t be Hirst who gets stung.
S is for Spin Off: Damien Hirst’s cynical ABC book for children (Digby Warde-Aldam)