The White House helped broker the deal that would allow buyer’s of Hunter Biden’s paintings to remain confidential, despite widespread concerns it could lead to bribery and influence peddling, it was revealed on Thursday.
The plan will allow Hunter Biden to forge ahead with his new career as a visual artist after a career change from a high-paid consultant on international deals, by also shielding him from the identities of those who purchase his pricey works.
The idea is avoid a situation where he knew who was buying his work so he might be in the position to do them a favor – although it still provides an opportunity for unidentified individuals to shovel large sums to the president’s son as he battles high living costs and legal fees.
‘The whole thing is a really bad idea,’ ethics expert Richard Painter told the Washington Post, which revealed new details of the arrangement.
‘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 ethics expert Walter Shaub.
‘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,’ the former director of the Office of Government Ethics in the Obama administration added.
The terms have been negotiated with Hunter’s lawyer as art shows in New York and his home of L.A. approach.
President Barack Obama’s ethics chief has slammed Hunter Biden’s ‘shameful and grifty’ sale of his art pieces for up to $500,000 to anonymous buyers as part of an upcoming exhibition that has sparked bribery and potential money laundering concerns
Experts are already warning of the risks of influence peddling or at least the appearance of ethical conflict 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.
Hunter’s New York art show is set for this fall, after his consulting work caused political headaches for the president during and after his campaign. Hunter also penned a memoir, Beautiful Things, that detailed his struggles with substance abuse and family trauma.
That negotiated structure is meant to keep Hunter Biden, who still communicates regularly with his father and travels with him, from knowing who is plunking down cash for his works, which are expected to be listed for prices ranging from $75,000 to as high as $500,000.
‘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,’ said Painter, who was a top ethics official in the George W. Bush administration.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted about the arrangement, while flagging Hunter Biden’s past work as a hedge funder in China. ‘Some very tough ethical questions about whether the president’s son, who is still investing in CCP-linked firms, should take $500,000 in payment (bribes) for his “artwork.” Better consult the experts on this one!’
Hunter would have to be informed at least of the value of sales of his paintings so that he could file accurate tax returns. Prosecutors in Delaware are already investigating his tax affairs. It was not clear that the public would ever be informed of the amounts Hunter earned from art sales.
Another part of the arrangement would warn White House officials not to give special treatment if a buyer’s identity becomes public.
Neither Hunter nor the White House would know who the buyers are, in an effort to prevent special treatment.
How the White House handles Hunter’s budding career is set to be an early ethics test, after Democrats and ethics groups condemned former President Donald Trump for bringing his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner into the White House as powerful unpaid advisors.
The Trump White House spent years fending off litigation and criticism over the president’s decision to maintain ownership of his business empire, including a luxury hotel in Washington, D.C.
‘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,’ said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.
Another ethics expert, Norm Eisen, who is now at the Brookings Institution, told the Post ‘The basic presumption is adult kids are able to make a living . . . as long as a reasonable amount of distance is maintained from the White House.’
He said the White House shouldn’t be promoting an art show, for example, and cautioned aides to stay away from anything involving art sales.
Some art critics have given Hunter Biden props for the quality of work – outside of the potential ethics conflicts in the untrained artist’s new career.
‘I don’t paint from emotion or feeling, which I think are both very ephemeral,’ Biden told ArtNet. ‘For me, painting is much more about kind of trying to bring forth what is, I think, the universal truth.’
‘The colors and compelling organic forms – it’s the kind of organic abstraction that I find easy on the eyes and provokes your curiosity,’ chairman of the MFA Fine arts department at New York’s School of Visual Arts Mark Tribe told the New York Post.
President Barack Obama‘s ethics chief last month slammed Hunter Biden‘s ‘shameful and grifty’ sale of his art pieces for up to $500,000 to anonymous buyers as part of an upcoming exhibition that has already sparked bribery and potential money laundering fears.
Walter Shaub, the former Office of Government Ethics director, also warned that it could be a way for ‘influence seekers’ or foreign governments to funnel money to the Biden family.
Shaub, who recently called out Biden administration officials for hiring a slew of family members to a variety of positions, has urged Hunter and his art dealer Georges Berges to reveal the identity of the buyers so the public can see if the buyers are trying to get access to the White House.
He told Fox News: ‘The notion of a president’s son capitalizing on that relationship by selling art at obviously inflated prices and keeping the public in the dark about who’s funneling money to him has a shameful and grifty feel to it.’
‘Just as hotel charges and real estate purchases created a risk of unknown parties funneling money to the Trump family for potentially unsavory purposes, Hunter Biden’s grotesquely inflated art prices create a similar risk of influence-seekers funneling money to the Biden family,’ he added.
‘But I also think it’s ridiculous that Hunter Biden is even going forward with this sale as a first-time artist.
‘He can’t possibly think anyone is paying him based on the quality of the art. This smells like an attempt to cash in on a family connection to the White House.’
Shaub also tweeted on Monday: ‘Let’s let foreign govts or anyone else funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously to POTUS’s relatives through subjectively priced commodities like hotel charges, real estate purchases and art. Oh wait, no, art is COMPLETELY different.’
The scandal-plagued first son, who has no professional background as an artist, will be selling off his artwork at a solo exhibition in New York City this fall.
Walter Shaub, the former Office of Government Ethics director, also warned that it could be a way for ‘influence seekers’ to funnel money to the Biden family
Art dealers have already noted that Biden is likely profiting off his father’s name given the staggering price of his artwork, with one saying his art would more likely sell for as much as $100,000 if he wasn’t a Biden.
All sales of Biden’s artwork will be kept confidential – despite his alleged corruption over prior business deals in Ukraine and China.
It has raised concerns that buyers with nefarious interests could potentially pay for the pieces to try to get access to President Biden through his son.
There are also fears from some that the sales of Biden’s artwork could result in people using laundered money to buy them and anonymous buyers in places like Russia might try purchasing Biden’s son’s work to try and get around sanctions currently imposed in their countries.
In October 2020, the US Treasury Department issued a warning that high-value art sales could be used by individuals and countries forbidden from doing business in the US as a way of circumventing that ban.
The Treasury Department advisory warned that the anonymity afforded to art buyers made it harder to track such illegal activity. It also warned the same buyers could then potentially re-sell the same works in the United States, enabling them to take money out of the US and potentially fund activities such as terrorism.
This artwork by Biden is untitled but measures 24in x 48in and was created on sheet metal. His art dealer has priced Biden’s artworks between $75,000 and $500,000
The agency representing Biden’s art dealer says it is common for gallery and auction sales to remain confidential but this practice has been scrutinized by law enforcement agencies in recent years.
‘Pricing fine art in his experiences as a gallerist is based on the demand of the work as well and the intrinsic value of it,’ a statement from Berges’ agency said. ‘His feeling is that within each piece – as with every artist, sales are always confidential to protect the privacy of the collector, this is standard practice for transactions in galleries as well as auction houses.’
Many on social media, however, were not convinced.
Former Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted: ‘It’s now actually commonplace for people to throw piles of money at Hunter Biden. Will the rest of the corporate media care that anonymous ‘collectors’ are dropping large sums on the president’s son, or nah?
‘They couldn’t possibly want anything. They’re just art lovers, right?’
Conservative commentator John Cardillo questioned whether Biden’s painting career could be a way of offering access to his dad for cash.
‘Hunter Biden’s Art Will Soon Hit the Market for Up to $500,000 Per Piece. Money. Laundering,’ he tweeted.
‘And just like that, Chinese, Iranian, and Russian ‘collectors’ will be shelling out big bucks for Hunter Biden’s ‘art,’ as their sanctions continued to be lifted with nothing in return.’
Money laundering and other crimes has long been an issue in the art world because of how secretive sales can be and how it can be sold off with 100 percent tax deductions.
This Biden art work is titled ‘Self portrait’ and is a mix media work on paper that measures 48in x 32in
This oil on canvas artwork is titled St. Thomas: Biden, who detailed his drug habits in his memoir, said making art wasn’t a form of therapy for him
Meanwhile, the prices of Biden’s work are also well above what some career painters make on a single artwork.
Renowned American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold his first artwork in 1984 for $20,900, which equates to roughly $54,000 today.
Just a few years ago, Andy Warhol’s 1983 Endangered Species sold for $725,000 – just $225,000 more than a Biden piece – at a New York auction.
Biden’s art dealer is planning a private viewing in Los Angeles before a solo exhibit will be held at his Georges Berges Gallery in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood in the fall.
Berges has likened Biden to famed British painters Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, whose artworks have fetched up to $142 million at auction.
New York art dealer Alex Acevedo told the New York Post that anyone who buys one of Biden’s artworks will be guaranteed a profit because he’s President Biden’s son.
‘Everybody would want a piece of that. The provenance is impeccable,’ he said.
Acevedo said if it weren’t for the Biden name the artworks would more likely sell for between $25,000 to $100,000, but added that he did like Biden’s work.
‘I’m not impressed with modern art at all. But I was floored by that guy,’ Acevedo said of Biden’s work. ‘The palette was wonderful. The space was well-organized. I would buy a couple of them.
Art consultant Martin Galindo said that he wasn’t a fan of Biden’s art but was confident the pieces would sell for hefty prices.
‘I’m very positive that he’s gonna do well in the market because this industry is very much about, what’s a simple way to put this – it’s like clout.’
After looking at one of Biden’s abstract artworks that appears to resemble bacteria under a microscope, Galindo said: ‘Oh, my God, that looks like COVID.’
The 51-year-old’s art dealer Georges Berges, who was jailed in California in the 90s for assault and making terroristic threats, told Artnet that he has priced Biden’s artworks between $75,000 and $500,000
The former drug addict, who is a lawyer and former lobbyist, has been embroiled in various scandals over the years including alleged corruption in his business dealings with Ukraine and a Justice Department probe into transactions with China.
He was paid up to $50,000 a month to sit on the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, despite not having any relevant qualifications.
More recently, text messages obtained from his laptop reveal he repeatedly used the n-word in messages to his lawyer in 2018 and 2019.
Biden, who detailed his drug habits in his memoir, said making art wasn’t a form of therapy for him.
‘It’s not a tool that I use to be able to, in any way, cope,’ he said.
‘It comes from a much deeper place. If you stand in front of a Rothko, the things that he evokes go far beyond the pain that Rothko was experiencing in his personal life at that moment.
‘I don’t paint from emotion or feeling, which I think are both very ephemera. For me, painting is much more about kind of trying to bring forth what is, I think, the universal truth.
‘The universal truth is that everything is connected and that there’s something that goes far beyond what is our five senses and that connects us all.’
Biden’s art dealer is planning a private viewing in Los Angeles before a solo exhibit will be held at his Georges Berges Gallery in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood (above) in the fall
When he was asked for his father thought of his artwork, Biden said: ‘My dad loves everything that I do and so I’ll leave it at that.’
Biden first opened up about his passion for art in an interview with the New York Times in February 2020, saying the creative endeavor was ‘literally keeping me sane’ following his struggles with crack addiction and in the midst of politically charged scrutiny over his foreign dealings.
He signed a deal to be represented by Georges Bergès Gallery late last year.
Biden’s art dealer’s roster of artists includes Sylvester Stallone and Bahraini royal family member Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa.
Berges was the subject of a federal lawsuit in 2016 after he was accused of defrauding an investor. The investor claimed she’d invested $500,000 in his gallery but he used the cash to pay off debts. Berges countersued and the case was settled in 2018.
In 1998, he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and making ‘terrorist threats’ in California. He pled no contest to the assault charges and served 90 days in jail and received a 36 month probation. The terrorist threat charges were later dismissed.
Berges also has strong ties to China and has regularly exhibited works by Chinese artists.