In an interesting case of an auction house fulfilling its role of gatekeeper to the art market, Sotheby’s was suspicious of Kevin Sutherland, a pastor/art dealer from Florida, who was trying to sell a few Damien Hirst Spin paintings. Sotheby’s contacted Hirst’s authentication entity, Science Ltd., and discovered the paintings were forgeries. The auction house could have left it there. Instead, they contacted the police:
On Jan. 29, an undercover detective from the New York Police Department sent Mr. Sutherland, 45, an e-mail asking if he had any of Mr. Hirst’s work for sale. Mr. Sutherland told the undercover officer he did but would not know whether they were available for sale for a few weeks, apparently when he expected to hear from Sotheby’s.
Then, on Jan. 31, Sotheby’s notified Mr. Sutherland that there had been a problem with the authentication. Three hours later, Mr. Sutherland e-mailed the undercover officer, prosecutors said in court papers. Mr. Sutherland went on to tell the undercover officer that he had another spin painting and three of Mr. Hirst’s “dot” paintings. He provided provenance papers and agreed to sell the lot for $185,000.
“Everything’s good, everything’s good,” Mr. Sutherland wrote in an e-mail when the undercover officer asked of assurances that the works were real.