Hunter Biden is expected to sell some of his artwork this fall for as much as $500,000 — but he may never learn who buys it.
In recent months, White House officials have worked on an ethics plan that would shield the identities of those who bid on the president's son's artwork, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The plan, which has been criticized by ethics experts, is meant to prevent a wealthy individual from currying favors with Hunter or his powerful family by paying a handsome sum for the tough-to-value paintings.
The arrangement, the details of which the White House has not confirmed on the record, is designed to allow Hunter Biden — a former lawyer who has struggled with addiction — to pursue a new career in art, the Post reported. At the same time, President Joe Biden has committed to upholding stricter barriers between family and governance than existed under his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement: “The President has established the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history, and his family's commitment to rigorous processes like this is a prime example.”
According to the Post, the prices for Hunter's artwork will be set by the New York gallery owner Georges Berges. Berges has previously said that Hunter Biden's artwork ranges in value from $75,000, for works on paper, to $500,000, for his larger paintings.
Berges will reject offers that are suspicious or above the asking price, the Post reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the arrangement. The Post quoted someone who initially identified as calling from Berges' gallery as saying that the process was “nothing unusual.” That person later declined to be named.
Hunter Biden's abstract art has received mixed reviews. In June, The New York Post, which has been critical of Hunter Biden, published a story with the headline: “Hunter Biden’s artwork is actually good and will be worth a lot, experts say.”
Mark Tribe, chairman of the MFA Fine Arts Department at New York City's School of Visual Arts, told the tabloid that Hunter Biden's work was “pretty strong.”
“The colors and compelling organic forms — it's the kind of organic abstraction that I find easy on the eyes and provokes your curiosity,” Tribe said.
But Jeffry Cudlin, an art professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, told the conservative Washington Examiner newspaper that Hunter Biden's paintings should cost no more than $3,000, the type of art “to hang over someone's couch.”
“If Hunter Biden were applying to school to get a BFA in painting, I think a portfolio with these pieces in it would indicate some sense of the medium, some nascent talent, and encourage anyone reviewing it that with a little training and a little study, Biden might one day make some interesting paintings,” Cudlin said.
The ethics arrangement is the latest headache that Hunter Biden, who has faced years of accusations that he has improperly benefited from his father's position, has given the White House.
Last month, the Daily Mail tabloid published photos allegedly taken from Hunter Biden's laptop that raised questions about whether his father helped him with his foreign business dealings while he was vice president. The White House has denied that Joe Biden discussed overseas business with his son. Hunter Biden is also facing a federal investigation into his tax affairs.
While the White House is apparently at pains to create a conflict-free way for Hunter Biden to sell his artwork, the deal as reported has been criticized by experts.
Walter Shaub, a leading ethics attorney who served as the director of the Office of Government Ethics from 2013 to 2017, wrote in a lengthy thread on Twitter that the process for selling Hunter Biden's artwork was “very disappointing.”
“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 wrote.
“The idea's that even Hunter won't know, but the WH has outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer,” Shaub added. “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.”
Norm Eisen, an attorney who served as ethics counsel to former President Barack Obama, was more sympathetic. Eisen told the Post that the “basic presumption is adult kids are able to make a living,” though he emphasized that there should be substantial distance between the sale and the White House.
“That means things like the White House should not be promoting the art show, which as far as I know they're not doing,” Eisen told the newspaper.
While Hunter Biden kept a low profile during his father's presidential campaign, Trump often sought to wield his checkered past and battle with drug and alcohol addictions against his politician father. Trump was impeached in 2019 after seeking to get the Ukrainian government to investigate both Bidens. He was acquitted in 2020.
Hunter Biden's emerging art career comes as he has sought to take on a larger public role. Earlier this year, he published a memoir, “Beautiful Things,” which The New York Times described as “equal parts family saga, grief narrative and addict's howl.” Despite slow sales, Hunter Biden has said he is working on a sequel to his memoir.
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