The Strange New Career of Hunter Biden - Artiste
Something seems amiss.
Hunter Biden appears to have everything a materialistic narcissist would want. Wealth. Power. Fame (Infamy, actually, but why quibble?). Sex. Drugs. Connections to more of the same. A battalion of enablers ranging from his family to a dominant political party to a nation's corporate news industry.
Yet something appears to be missing. Apparently, the son of the virtual President has been choking his inner muse. Why else would this most fortunate son take up art at the ripe old age of 51?
Well, making a little extra money never hurts. Biden's paintings, drawings and collages will sell for between $75,000 and $500,000, said his art dealer, Georges Berges.
That can buy a lot of crack and hookers.
Yet something seems amiss. Only anonymous and confidential buyers will be eligible to purchase pieces from Biden's oeuvre.
What? You mean no respectable art connoisseur or benefactor wants to be associated with an up-and-coming Picasso, Rembrandt or even Warhol? Or does the precocious artiste refuse to have the work of his innermost soul exposed to some of art's more influential patrons?
Sarcasm aside, Biden's foray into art is anything but humorous. Not only does it reflect the Biden penchant for selling influence; it could enable some of the family's more noxious associates to avoid sanctions or launder money.
The Daily Mail's Geoff Earle discussed those dangers while writing about the impending auction of young Biden's work.
"Experts are already warning of the risks of influence peddling or at least the appearance of ethical conflict," Earle wrote, "when people buy paintings by the president's son in a market where sales are already murky and prices extremely difficult to evaluate in an industry that can be used for money laundering."
One of those experts is Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. Painter told the Washington Post that two groups of buyers could provide a lucrative market for Biden's art: lobbyists who want to earn favor with the virtual president, and surreptitious representatives of foreign governments that want to evade economic sanctions.
The Treasury Department specifically addressed those dangers. In October, it warned that individuals, groups or governments could use "high-value art transactions" to avoid sanctions and gain access to American markets and financial institutions. Bad actors could exploit inherent weaknesses in the art market, such as "a lack of transparency and a high degree of anonymity and confidentiality, especially with respect to the sale and purchase of high-value artworks," the department's release warned.
"Shell companies and intermediaries are also frequently used to purchase, hold, or sell such artworks, as well as to remit and receive payments," it continued. "These avenues for maintaining anonymity allow blocked persons and other illicit actors to obscure their true identities from other market participants, and help to hide prohibited conduct from law enforcement and regulators. The mobility, concealability, and subjective value of artwork further exacerbate its vulnerability to sanctions evasion."
The expensive price range for work from a middle-aged artist with no previous track record also raises questions.
"There has to be a résumé that reasonably supports when you get that high," said Marc Straus, who owns a gallery in Manhattan. "To me, it’s pure ‘How good is it and what’s this artist’s potential? What’s the résumé?' On that basis, it would be an entirely different price. But you give it a name like Hunter Biden, maybe they’ll get the price."
"If he wanted to be judged on his work alone," Indrisek said, "he’d show them under the name Hunter Wilson or something."
By contrast, Andy Warhol's "Endangered Species," a series of 10 screenprints he produced in 1983, sold for $725,000 in 2015. That figure constituted a record for a numbered series.
Two other facts increase suspicion. First, the Justice Department has been investigating the younger Biden since 2019 for money laundering. Second, Peter Schweizer, who runs the Government Accountability Institute and has written extensively about government corruption, said on Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show July 12 that Joe Biden "was a direct beneficiary" of his son's business arrangements.
Nevertheless, the White House contacted young Biden's lawyers to devise an arrangement that allows any buyers to remain anonymous. Ostensibly, such a plan would satisfy any ethical concerns by preventing Biden from knowing the identities of anyone buying or even expressing interest in his work. The plan also would allow Berges to reject suspicious offers.
But Berges, like his famous client, has ties to China. He has traveled to Beijing and Shanghai to purchase work from Chinese artists, regularly exhibits modern Chinese art, and even considered opening galleries in both cities. "The question that I always had was, 'How’s China changing the world in terms of art and culture?' " Berges said in 2014 to China Daily, which the Chinese Communist Party publishes.
Walter Shaub, former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, expressed his disgust on Twitter.
"So instead of disclosing who is paying outrageous sums for Hunter Biden’s artwork so that we could monitor whether the purchasers are gaining access to government, the WH tried to make sure we will never know who they are," Shaub tweeted. "That’s very disappointing.
"The idea’s that even Hunter won’t know, but the WH has outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer. We’re supposed to trust a merchant in an industry that’s fertile ground for money laundering, as well as unknown buyers who could tell Hunter or WH officials? No thanks."
If nothing else, the arrangement provides a similar kind of protective veneer Tony Bobulinski mentioned to the New York Post in October. Bobulinski, one of the Biden family's former business associates, told the Post about Joe Biden's pivotal role in helping Hunter secure lucrative overseas contracts, despite the elder Biden's denials.
Jim Biden, Joe's brother, described that protective veneer in 2017, when Bobulinski asked whether Joe's involvement could sabotage Presidential ambitions.
"I said, 'Jim, how are you guys doing this? This seems crazy,’ " Bobulinski said. "He looks at me and kind of chuckles and says, 'Plausible deniability.' "
Joseph Hippolito is a free-lance writer and a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine. His commentaries have appeared in The Federalist, The Stream, Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post and National Post.