Generic person of God (or gods) busted for selling fake art

So, if you read a news report about a politician who did something really stupid or really bad — illegal even — what is the first question that would leap into your mind?

Right. You’d want to know what kind of politician, what brand of politician, the story was talking about. Ditto for all kinds of other cultural figures, from scholars, to musicians, to business people or to any other kind of work frequented by a wide variety of people who believe a wide variety of different things.

Thus, a former GetReligionista emailed us the URL for an interesting New York Times piece, but it’s a piece with a rather strange hole in the middle of its facts. The headline:

Pastor Who Tried to Sell Fake Damien Hirst Paintings Is Sentenced to 6 Months

Nothing all that unusual there, methinks. But let’s move on to take a look at the top of the story:

A Florida pastor who was convicted of trying to sell fake Damien Hirst paintings to an undercover police officer was sentenced on Monday to six months in jail and five years of probation.

Justice Bonnie G. Wittner of State Supreme Court in Manhattan said a jail sentence was warranted because the pastor, Kevin Sutherland, had chosen to sell the works to a person he believed was a New York collector shortly after the Sotheby’s auction house said one of the paintings could not be authenticated.

Nothing usual so far, right?

But before we proceed, let’s pause and ask — for unenlightened folks who live far from New York City — a relevant question: Who is Damien Hirst and why is the term “enfant terrible” so frequently attached to his name in modern-art circles? And, oh, what is the postmodern theological statement attached to that dead Tiger Shark at the top of this post?

That question rather answers itself, with a bit of reading. However, once you have surfed through some of the links in that Google search, many GetReligion readers will be inspired to ask another logical, and I would say journalistic, question: What kind of pastor would be attracted into Hirst territory and might have connections to people who would want to purchase fake copies of his work?

In other words: What brand of pastor are we talking about in this story?

Apparently, this was not a question that entered the minds of the urban elites employed at the Times copy desk. Perhaps all of the pastors that they know admire and collect Hirst?

At no point in the story is the Rev. Kevin Sutherland linked to any particular denomination or religious tradition. Instead readers are told things like this:

Prosecutors said Mr. Sutherland had not only tried to rid himself of paintings he knew were forged, but tried to sell them at a profit. They asked for a prison sentence of between one and three years.

“This crime was motivated by greed,” said Rachel Hochhauser, an assistant district attorney. “He did more than try to pass on his financial loss. He tried to get a windfall from it.”

But Mr. Sutherland’s lawyer, Sam Talkin, argued that his client had no criminal past and should receive probation. He portrayed the crime as “an isolated detour from an otherwise law-abiding life.”

Apparently the pastor has no past of any kind. As the former GetReligionista noted: “It’s like saying ‘a politician’ or ‘a doctor’ without any more detail.”

Why omit this detail? I would be interested in hearing calm, level-headed theories offered by readers in our comments pages. My own theory? I have hinted at it in the “categories” tag for the piece.

IMAGE: Yes, of course. It’s the famous Hirst work — a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde — called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.”

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • MollieZHemingway

    I’m just going to assume he was Methodist. Kidding!

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Lutheran was my guess. (I’m kidding, too!)

      • MollieZHemingway

        I feel like to really sell this, you have to pick a Synod. I’d suggest:
        Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

        • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

          I was thinking more along the lines of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. :-)

          • tmatt

            Not a logical choir in which to mind fans of postmodern art.

          • Julia B

            Damien appears to be inspired by Mallenthorp (sp?), but using formaldahyde instead of urine. There is a series on the 12 Apostles and this is truly bizarre with live fish in a OB-Gyn’s office, but rather poignant considering the title. http://www.damienhirst.com/love-lost The kaleidoscopes of butterflies and colorful bugs are beautiful.

          • tmatt

            Duh, FIND fans of …

  • Howard

    Generally speaking, “pastor” seems to have no more meaning than “researcher”. If you spend your weekends looking for Bigfoot in the local park, you can call yourself a cryptozoological researcher; if you spend your weekends trying to prove that your basement is haunted, you can call yourself a paranormal researcher; if you can convince at least one other person to listen to your preaching, you can call yourself a pastor. (I grew up in a small, independent Bible church with a weekly attendance of about 20, so I know whereof I speak.)

    My guess is that the only thing that made this story “newsworthy” was attaching the title “pastor”, but any further details might have made it less “newsworthy”.

    • Julia B

      I love the “researcher” moniker. The History Channel is using less of those folks, but today I noticed they still like to reference anonymous “scholars”.

      • FW Ken

        Not to mention “ancient alien theorists”… my personal favorite.

        • Julia B

          My normally rational mother was rather fascinated with the Von Daniken stuff about aliens kick-starting our culture. LOL

    • helen

      The term “pastor” is very misused these days, and genuine Pastors get the fallout. This story is in line with the one about the self described “pastor” who stiffed a waitress and the waitress retaliated. (And got fired, I think?)

      As you say, except for misappropriating a title, no news here!
      Just a crook who got caught peddling fake “art”.

      I’ve never seen such junk in any kind of Lutheran’s home…
      Lutherans’ idea of “art” tends to run to decorated plates (and if they are additionally ‘decorated’ with open face sandwiches, so much the better!)

  • Bob Smietana

    Rev Sutherland is founding pastor of MosaicChurch – a non denominational church that his wife appears to co-lead. How do I know this? Because the New York Times told me so in its previous coverage, which is linked to this story. This appears to be the 3rd story the Times has done on this case. Which makes this an update on a previously reported story – which usually is short and sweet

    Here’s one of those helpful links to a previous full report in case you missed it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/nyregion/florida-pastor-is-convicted-of-trying-to-sell-fake-damien-hirst-paintings.html?

    • tmatt

      I still believe that the story should have included a brief mention of that fact. What, two words?

      • tmatt

        Another point: How would a print edition reader know that fact, or a mobile reader (checking on my phone)?

  • wlinden

    He’s PROTESTANT. Because “Protestant” means nothing beyond “not Catholic”, and there is no need to pay any attention to nonexistent differences between “Protestants”.
    (In case anyone misses the point this time, that WAS sarcasm, Sheldon.)


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