The only stroke of genius in Hunter Biden’s upcoming gallery exhibition and art sale may be the agreement crafted by the White House to keep its buyers anonymous.
Sure, the president’s son is a novice, self-taught artist whose work originally seemed like a good way to keep him out of lobbying, out of iniquity and, most crucially, out of sight.
Last year, he told The New York Times that it “puts my energy toward something positive,” adding, “It keeps me away from people and places where I shouldn’t be.” Like anywhere near his dad’s campaign and/or the White House, for instance.
Late last year, however, it was reported that he was in the midst of signing a deal with the Georges Bergès Gallery in New York City. That was unusual enough for a novice painter, even one with the last name Biden. What was more unusual were the asking prices — between $75,000 and $500,000.
For a man who’s allegedly made a career off of influence peddling (and has, at the very least, benefited from individuals who themselves would benefit by proximity to his father), those kinds of astronomical prices raised serious red flags among ethics experts.
But don’t worry — the White House is hard at work making sure there are no conflicts of interest.
“White House officials have helped craft an agreement under which purchases of Hunter Biden’s artwork — which could be listed at prices as high as $500,000 — will be kept confidential from even the artist himself, in an attempt to avoid ethical issues that could arise as a presidential family member tries to sell a product with a highly subjective value,” The Washington Post reported Thursday.
“Under an arrangement negotiated in recent months, a New York gallery owner is planning to set prices for the art and will withhold all records, including potential bidders and final buyers. The owner, Georges Bergès, has also agreed to reject any offer that he deems suspicious or that comes in over the asking price, according to people familiar with the agreement.”
Those are the protections that are supposed to make us feel safe.
As Jim Geraghty remarked over at National Review, “Either the Biden family is stupid, or they think everyone else is stupid.”
Don’t necessarily discount the former. Hunter Biden’s nightmare laptop — which contained sensitive messages with his father, the numbers of numerous people in Washington, incriminating photographs, salacious messages and an email inbox that has been the bane of both the prodigal son and his father — was, according to a report last year, protected by the password “Hunter02.”
Assuming it’s the latter, however, ethics experts aren’t so stupid.
“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. That’s very disappointing,” tweeted Walter Shaub, former President Barack Obama’s ethics chief, after The Post’s report Thursday.
“The idea’s that even Hunter won’t know, but the WH has outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer,” he continued. “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.
“Is this amateur hour for government ethics? Good luck dealing with the fallout when a new owner of Hunter’s pricey ‘art’ appears in a magazine spread. In the meantime, the WH has put its stamp of approval on the president’s son profiting off his father’s public service again.”
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./2
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 8, 2021
Yeah yeah, I know some folks aren’t going to like this thread because we’re not supposed to criticize the president who’s way better than the ethical disaster named Trump. But, you know what? With democracy on the ropes, ethics has never been more important. And this ain’t it. /4
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 8, 2021
“What these people are paying for is Hunter Biden’s last name,” Shaub also told The Post.
Richard Painter was former President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007; he’s now an ardent Democrat, one who ran a truly outré campaign for a Minnesota Senate seat a few years ago.
He was similarly unimpressed.
“The whole thing is a really bad idea,” he told The Post. “The initial reaction a lot of people are going to have is that he’s capitalizing on being the son of a president and wants people to give him a lot of money. I mean, those are awfully high prices.”
If it’s unclear whether the Bidens are stupid or think you are, the rest of the White House is clearly in the latter camp.
“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,” Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, told The Post in response to the story.
If this is a prime example of rigorous ethical processes, they’re in trouble.
Their firewall against ethical concerns involves a gallery owner and his employees not telling Hunter Biden or anyone in his circle. Even then, there’s nothing from keeping the individuals who bought it from contacting Hunter after the sale is done.
You and I will likely never know who they are, but the Bidens stand a good chance of discovering it.
Total transparency, not secrecy, would be the way to build trust — particularly if someone in a position of influence or one of his or her proxies buys it.
That the White House knows this and chose not to go that route speaks volumes.
This is especially problematic considering that few people labor under the misapprehension Hunter Biden’s oeuvre is any good. In an Artnet piece on him last year, Artsy editor Scott Indrisek said “the process here seems more important than the finished product.”
“I guess it’s important that wounded men of a certain age and privileged background have the opportunity to find themselves creatively … it’s just too bad that everyone else is expected to pay attention,” he added.
“There’s nothing unique about his work, and I have far better abstract painters,” Margery Goldberg, owner of Zenith Gallery in D.C., told Washingtonian. “The only reason in the entire world this guy [might get] a show at a New York City gallery is because he is the president’s son. They wouldn’t have touched him with a 10-foot pole.”
“I have to be honest and say it’s nice as decoration that would work well in a hotel,” American University art professor Don Kimes added. “It’s a Bed, Bath & Beyond kind of thing.”
However, if you want a real work of genius, maybe Bergès can anonymously sell someone the official copy of the arrangement his father’s White House crafted to assure America there were no ethical concerns with selling Hunter’s artwork at massively inflated prices. It’d be subversive on a Warholian level. Duchampian, even.
And after you buy it, they’ll have to write another arrangement to cover that sale.
Then someone can buy the official copy of that arrangement, which means they can create another, and …
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