Hunter Biden’s Art

A new career and a pending art sale.

Source: Instagram

Earlier this week a friend made some crack about Hunter Biden’s artwork. I think she had seen something about it on Fox News. Ends up that the president’s son is involved in launching an art career. The NYT has probably the most comprehensive backstory on his burgeoning art career, to include examples of the artwork itself from back in February of 2020: There’s a New Artist in Town. The Name Is Biden.

While I know a little bit about photography, I am no expert on painting nor the ink-based techniques that Biden is employing. I do know that art is subjective. Indeed, as I was reading about Biden’s work, I kept thinking of the great philosopher Huey Lewis, who told us:

I know what I like
(I know what I like)
I know what I like to do
(I know what I like)
I know what I like
(I know what I like to do)
Well what about you?

Granted, that song is not about artwork, but you get the idea.

Silly 80s digressions aside, I will admit that while Biden’s work is not really my taste, it strikes me are being pretty good (or more interesting than I expected at a minimum). That he would be able to make a living as an artist based solely on the quality of the work does not strike me as unreasonable.

However, that’s not the issue, as a WaPo story noted this week: Deal of the art: White House grapples with ethics of Hunter Biden’s pricey paintings. So we return to a topic that both James Joyner and I have both written about in the past: the exploitation of Biden’s last name and the ethical issues that it raises.

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.

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.

The issues here are obvious. First, there is zero doubt that part of the asking price for the artwork prices in Biden’s name and the fact that he is the son of a sitting president. Second, the fact that the White House is involved in any way is also off-putting.

And while I understand the goal of not letting the artist know who bought the paintings, I am not sure that such a secret is all that easy to keep (or hard to communicate if one wishes the artist to know). As such, I would argue that full public disclosure would have been the better route.

Officials close to President Biden, who have helped craft the agreement along with Hunter Biden’s attorney, have attempted to do so in a way that allows the president’s son to pursue a new career while also adhering to the elder Biden’s pledge to reverse his predecessor’s ethical laxity, especially regarding family members.

But the arrangement is drawing detractors, including ethics experts as well as art critics who suggest that Hunter Biden’s art would never be priced so high if he had a different last name. Bergès has said that prices for the paintings would range from $75,000 to $500,000.

“The whole thing is a really bad idea,” said Richard Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. “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.”

But, of course, the last name is part of the interest, yes? People who can afford to pay that kind of money for a painting are doing it, at least in part, because of novelty, and having them painted by the sitting president’s son is definitely a novelty. Really, on one level the whole thing is just nuts: how many readers of this post have homes plus contents plus cars worth less than $500,000?

Look, this is, in my view, far less problematic than his being named to the Burisma board or other ways in which his name clearly got him opportunities in the past. Still, if one would (and I would) raise an eyebrow over a similar deal for one of the Trump children, it is more than fair to do so about Biden’s.

By the same token, I prefer Hunter capitalizing on his last name to sell artwork he himself made over him being directly employed in the administration any day of the week.

My basic view about Hunter Biden is not much different now than what I wrote back in December of 2019:

And let me be clear: I have no interest in defending Hunter Biden, per se. Indeed, everything I know about him suggests a person with questionable judgment at best. The basic litany of publicly known foibles include a discharge from the Navy reserves after testing positive for cocaine (and a general history of substance abuse) and a secret child with a stripper (after initially denying being the father).

[…]

Even beyond all of that, there is no doubt in my mind that he got the offer to work with Burisma because of his last name and that he showed poor judgment in taking the position, since it clearly always had the chance of causing problems for his father.

And, of course, all of this just allows for yet another avenue for attacking Biden by right-wing media as the direct result of his son’s activities. But, such is politics in the era of outrage media, I suppose. Gotta have something simple to fill up all those cable news hours–and this story comes with free visuals!

Back to the art itself, here is one assessment from the WaPo story linked above:

Scott Indrisek, a former editor in chief of Modern Painters magazine and a former deputy editor at Artsy, said: “I would call it very much a hotel art aesthetic. It’s the most anonymous art I can imagine. It’s somewhere between a screen saver and if you just Googled ‘midcentury abstraction’ and mashed up whatever came up.”

Indrisek added, “If he wanted to be judged on his work alone, he’d show them under the name Hunter Wilson or something.”

Ouch/sure. But Hunter Wilson would be making a lot less money. And, ultimately, it is neither Hunter’s fault nor his doing that his name alone has some amount of value. And of the ways that he could exploit that name, this is one of the less problematic in my view. But I maintain that full transparency would be better here than trying to pretend like this is going to be a fully blind process when art is something that is displayed for others to see.

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    If the right wing is going to make the name Hunter Biden a household word, he’d kind of be a fool not to cash in.

    I was expecting to hate the actual work, but I don’t.

    9
  2. gVOR08 says:

    The Supremes just decided donors to political “charities” don’t have to be disclosed to the state of California out of fear they would be disclosed, although confidential, because CA had a breach of some data once. They claim to have a fear of harassment that seems about as real as in-person vote fraud. A fear of harassment by Trumpskyites of anyone whose name became associated with the dreaded Hunter Biden seems a deal more credible. So I’m not sure full disclosure is a good idea either.

    2
  3. Modulo Myself says:

    Generally, nobody drops 500K on new art without it being part of an advisable investment strategy. Jeff Koons might look like a novelty act to a normal person, but he’s like a AAA bond in the art world. The guy from Modern Painter is right–Hunter Biden’s art is middlebrow and gormless and has little market value, I’m guessing, beyond his name. Anyone who buys it as art is probably being ripped off.

    2
  4. Clif says:

    @Gustopher: If a normal president had a crackhead son who slept with his dead brothers wife and knocked up a stripper after making millions from a foreign energy company….and then started making bad art, well it would probably be newsworthy to any real reporter. I won’t bother with the illegal firearm application, for the same reason.
    Art is whatever you want it be, this is a celebrity thing that the myopic enjoy so some wealthy donor will buy it and write it off as a charitable donation.

    3
  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    Speaking of art, I’d like to announce that next week I’m opening a gallery showing of my new painting series “After the Last Four Years, Anyone Wringing Their Hands about Hunter Biden’s Art Can Go Fuck Themselves”

    19
  6. wr says:

    Ooh, look, someone in America is able to rake in money because he’s become a celebrity. Scandal! He didn’t even have to release a sex tape first.

    9
  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Modulo Myself: @Stormy Dragon: “Hunter Wilson” wouldn’t be able to sell his stuff at a posters/framing shop, let alone a gallery. Even so, this is first world problems-type stuff. Conspicuous consumption has always been with us, and people got to do something with their surplus capital. Buying “15-minutes-of-fame” artwork is simply eyerolling.

    1
  8. wr says:

    Someone wake me up when he releases “Biden Beer.”

    (Please note: If you are under 50 and this comment makes no sense, you are missing nothing but another dismal relic of the 70s…)

    13
  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Article II Sec. 1, Para 5:

    No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

    Oh yeah, and no dawgdamned children.

  10. Gustopher says:

    @Clif: aw, poor little Clif is triggered.

    Get back to me when you want Clarence Thomas to recuse himself on any case where his wife has done political work.

    16
  11. @Gustopher: TBH, I am not even sure what his point is.

    4
  12. @wr: Billy Beer made an appearance in the WaPo piece I linked to (I think–else it was in something else I read).

  13. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Just a wild guess: he’s trolling?

    BTW, I’d pay as much for Biden’s art as I would for Rudy’s legal advice.

    4
  14. grumpy realist says:

    Looking at it, the designs wouldn’t be that bad for fabric for a quilt….but yeah, as a painting/art object it’s pretty typical airport aesthetic. Why couldn’t Hunter have taken a square, painted it black, and titled it “two cats fighting in a soot-filled chimney at midnight under a cloudy sky”?

    1
  15. grumpy realist says:

    (If anyone wants a good guffaw about art and people being pretentious about it, look up the MIT hack titled “No Knife”)

  16. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Billy Beer made an appearance in the WaPo piece I linked to (I think–else it was in something else I read).”

    I never actually tried Billy Beer, but it couldn’t have been worse than the Bicentennial Beer that was around at roughly the same time…

  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @wr:

    I did try Billy Beer, as I recall, it was like making love in a canoe, F’ing close to water.

    2
  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Clif:
    You just basically described the entire Trump family. Or do you think Don Jr. is just very (very, very) energetic? Drug addicts and crooks leeching off their loser father. But here’s the thing: Hunter Biden actually has talent, something none of the squalid Trump clan can claim. He’s actually good at something other than kissing Daddy’s ass.

    2
  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    Art is in the eye of the beholder. I’d pay a couple grand. Which is middling art gallery painting price. He’s not Picasso, but he’s making visually appealing if not profound stuff that reminds me oddly of Google’s AI art.

    4
  20. Jax says:

    My “give a damn” on Hunter Biden’s new profession as an “artist” is broken. Jared and Ivanka made over 640 MILLION dollars while “working” for Trump. I literally do not give a fuck about Hunter Biden, his laptop, his artwork, or anything, as long as he ain’t anywhere near my government or the levers of power.

    12
  21. Ken_L says:

    Sorry, but this is nothing but a pathetic attempt to recreate the Hillary/Clinton Foundation “scandal”. Of course Hunter is trading on his name. So do countless other public figures. Does anyone think books by the Trump brats and countless politicians and numerous Fox pundits would even have found a publisher if not for the selling power of their name?

    Hunter Biden would have been perfectly entitled, legally and morally, to tell his father that how he earned his living was none of his father’s goddam business. Instead, he has apparently agreed to severe limits on his activities, which nobody ever thought to apply to the families of any previous president. There is simpy no ethical issue raised by this typically malicious bit of Trump Republican propaganda, and it’s disappointing that Taylor saw fit to write about it as if it had some substance.

    2
  22. Jen says:

    I can’t be bothered with this. Seriously, who cares? The art looks like neuron pathways and is mildly interesting.

    But on the “try and sell it under a different name…” Please. The Fox News crowd would decry that too, as Hunter trying to get away with something by not putting his name to it or something similar. Stop trying to make fetch happen.

    1
  23. Mikey says:

    I’m not so hot on the piece to his right, but I really like the one just behind him. It’s like a dandelion firework.

    2
  24. Clif says:

    @Gustopher: Wow, that was rich- the easily triggered trying to project, as expected. Keep your standards low, like your brethren!

  25. Clif says:

    @Michael Reynolds: That’s nice, how many of the Trump kids went to rehab after taking selfies of themselves wacked out on the rock, let alone did the rest of that stuff? Sure, they followed their dads lead but actually made something of it rather than a pile of depravity? I see one of 46’s nieces seemed to follow Hunter’s lead with her credit card fraud, but she got off just like him, and now he’s making pictures worthy of a rehabbing druggie, that he’ll sell to like minded fools.
    More importantly, notice the media’s ability to dodge trivial stories when they might cause some embarrassment for the frail first family?

    3
  26. @Clif:

    notice the media’s ability to dodge trivial stories when they might cause some embarrassment for the frail first family?

    This is what vexes me about your position: the OP quotes a Washington Post story about the ethical concerns and the NYT piece I linked to has numerous embarrassing details about Hunter’s behavior.

    Literally, all of his bad behavior has been reported on in major news outlets. As such, I am not sure what you are going on about.

    3
  27. Matthew Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This is what vexes me about your position: the OP quotes a Washington Post story about the ethical concerns and the NYT piece I linked to has numerous embarrassing details about Hunter’s behavior.

    Consistency has never been a strong suit with many of 45’s supporters. Hence they can spend all of CPAC booing anything C-19 vaccination-related only to cheer when Trump talks about Project Lightspeed and the beautiful vaccines it delivered. That’s the core of outrage-driven identity politics.

    1
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Clif:
    You seem to think a drug addict going to rehab is a bad thing. Better to stay hooked? Ooookay. Enjoying that Fentanyl a bit too much, are you?

    1
  29. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Clif was talking abject rejection and projection.

    As to Hunter’s art. If someone produces something someone likes to see, I am down with that.

    If progeny of a big daddy just produces shite people buy to buy an audience I am agin it.

    I lack evidence of Hunter’s intent. It might be pure. On the surface, it appears to be not sketchy.

    There is no evidence Hunter is selling for influence. Carry on.

    If that is a game it will become clear. If then, it will need to be addressed.

  30. Moderate Mom says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You might be willing to pony up a couple of grand, but would you be willing to pay between $75k and $500k for one of Hunter’s masterpieces? I’m betting you wouldn’t blow that kind of money for such crap.

  31. Clif says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Th easily triggered say what?

  32. Clif says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: What should “vex” you is how the story just disappears, like it never happened. There should be some kind of standard applied to the president’s family, and how he raised his kids is as much a part of him as is his easiness to marrying their kids babysitter. I hate to seem prudish but after 4 yrs of holding a candle to 45 we should have similar standards- but that’s never going to happen when your party has minimal.

  33. @Clif: This literally makes no sense. I am quoting stories from the Washington Post and New York Times and there are plenty others out there as it pertains to Hunter Biden.

    how he raised his kids is as much a part of him as is his easiness to marrying their kids babysitter.

    At some point, an adult parent can only be so responsible for his adult son’s behavior. And I am not even sure what to what you want to be discussed here.

    And if you are trying to cast aspersions on the Bidens’ four-decade plus marriage at this stage, that is just weird and pointless (as in, literally, what is your point?).

    I mean, I agree that if Biden paid off a porn star for an affair that that should be reported. I am 100% certain it would be.

    And should Biden give Hunter and his wife jobs in the administration, I expect that would make the news.

  34. The Hunter Biden art story was on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning.

  35. Clif says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Quoting the NYT/Wapo is pretty thin, they’re very left leaning “news” companies. So are you disputing the fact that some news co.’s can declare what’s newsworthy or not? I mean after 4 years of these same respected companies publishing the equivilant of tabloid trash as reality? Some people might ask you to compare 45’s kids to 46’s, but that would be terribly unfair to the guy who supported segregation and belittles minorities like they’re nothing to him, as they aren’t. No need to bring up Tara Reade either, that stuff never happened because they said so.
    I’d expect more from a real professor, but this sites pretty weak – more like a boys club for chronic whiners with no solutions to anything. Just keep feeding them anti GOP stuff, they need to vent more than most normal people do.

  36. @Clif:

    Quoting the NYT/Wapo is pretty thin, they’re very left leaning “news” companies

    Your claim is that that story isn’t covered. But I cite NYT, WaPo, and NPR–all major news outlets. I also saw it on FNC this week as well.

    Your claim that it isn’t covered is undercut by it being covered.

    What is it you want?

    I’d expect more from a real professor

    I’ll bite: what is it that you expect? You have not been too clear on this count.