Column: Hunter Biden is trading on the family name — again
After a months-long residence in the bohemian heart of Los Angeles — Venice Beach — the artist known as Hunter Biden has moved somewhere “up the coast.”
At his new house, reported Artnet News, he is now painting in a converted three-car garage with a brick floor and skylights.
Biden, the youngest and only surviving son of President Biden, has found a new career.
In what I suppose is an effort to earn a living without politically compromising his father, he has turned what he describes as a lifelong passion — art — into a job.
“Working on canvas, metal and Japanese Yupo paper, Biden’s artworks are often layered, with elements of photography, painting, collage and poetry,” Artnet’s Katya Kazakina wrote last week. “Some are geometric abstractions, filled with patterns and somewhat hallucinogenic. Others depict trees, leaves, and body parts like outstretched arms.”
His New York-based art dealer, Georges Bergès, who has been working with Biden for more than a year, has said he will hold a private showing for Biden this fall at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, followed by a private exhibition in New York. Bergès has said prices for Biden’s artwork will range from $75,000 to $500,000 for large-scale paintings.
But are they any good?
Does it really matter?
And does selling the artworks have the potential to compromise Hunter’s father?
As is often the case with art at this level, the identity of buyers will not be disclosed, leading not just his father’s political enemies, but also ethics experts and some of Biden’s allies to speculate about whether this is just the latest example of Hunter exploiting the family name for profit.
“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,” Walter Shaub, who was director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics under President Obama, told Fox News.
“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.”
I don’t disagree with Shaub’s assessment. I find no record of Biden pledging to give the profits from his artwork to charity, which would help remove any stench from this commercial venture.
Reaction to Biden’s work has been — predictably — a mixture of curiosity and derision.
New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz described Biden’s work to Artnet as “Generic Post Zombie Formalism illustration.” Art critic Scott Indrisek suggested the work is suitable for a dermatologist’s waiting room.
“I guess it’s important that wounded men of a certain age and privileged background have the opportunity to find themselves creatively,” Indrisek told Artnet. “It’s just too bad everyone else is expected to pay attention.”
The Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic, Christopher Knight, told me he has seen only reproductions of Biden’s work, and hesitates to weigh in. However, he said, he was reminded of another public figure-turned-artist. “He’s no George W. Bush,” said Knight, who was underwhelmed by the 43rd president’s artwork, “so that’s something.”
Artnet News’ critic Ben Davis was quoted as saying the paintings seem to be an allegory for Biden’s life: “It sees like he’s trying to occupy his mind … trying to fill up the empty space and to make some structure out of a mess.”
I never actually saw Biden while he lived on North Venice Boulevard next to the Grand Canal, but I certainly was aware of his presence in my neighborhood.
Every day, Secret Service agents sat in three unmarked cars parked nose-to-tail in front of the house, half a block from a dozen tents on Pacific Avenue. With their ear wires, short hair and staid clothing, let’s just say they stuck out.
It always seemed curious to me that someone like Biden, who wrote candidly about his crack cocaine and alcohol addiction in his memoir “Beautiful Things,” would post up a block from the beach, which is, at the current unfortunate moment, an open-air drug market speckled with homeless encampments. After all, he boasted in the book, his “superpower” was sussing out drugs anywhere, anytime.
Why put yourself in temptation’s path like that?
And if you seek privacy, why live in a home that is exposed to the public on three sides?
Anyway, those questions are moot now.
Several weeks ago, a big yellow moving van appeared in front of the house and the agents disappeared.
As reckless as Hunter Biden has been — and it’s a miracle he’s not dead or in prison if everything he wrote in his memoir is true — you have to admire him for at least one thing: He has tried carefully to curate his redemption story.
In July 2019, he rolled out his sordid history of drug addiction and influence peddling to the New Yorker in an effort to inoculate his father from his failures and poor judgment.
(Starting in 2014, just as his four-year crack addiction was heating up and his father was overseeing U.S. policy in Ukraine as vice president, he was invited to serve on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma. The huge monthly fee — reportedly $50,000 — paved for him an unimpeded path to self-destruction.)
A few months after the New Yorker story ran, he announced he would step down from the board of a Chinese investment company, which, along with Burisma, made him a relentless (and frankly deserved) target for then-President Trump and his allies. Both he and his father said he would refrain from working for foreign corporations while his father is in office.
Four and a half months later, just before his father became the indisputable frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, he invited a New York Times reporter into his home studio in the Hollywood Hills to chronicle his latest transformation. The ensuing splashy feature story described him as “an undiscovered artist.”
And then, of course, his memoir came out, and according to many reports, flopped despite a blizzard of publicity. And he’s been beset by a drip, drip, drip of unflattering and compromising stories based on documents and photographs found on the drive of a laptop he purportedly left at a Delaware repair shop.
I would assume he is facing some hefty legal bills as he is still under investigation by the Justice Department, which is looking into his taxes and international business dealings. With a new wife and baby, plus four other children to support, it’s no wonder he’s selling his art to the highest bidders.
It’s a pity that Hunter Biden is once again exploiting his family name for cash. I am no art critic, but I doubt he’d have a viable career as an artist if his father were not the most powerful man on the planet.
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