Let’s admit it: Of all the ways that the son of a U.S. president might cash in on his family connection, we had never thought of having the presidential scion declare himself to be an artist, selling his artwork for sums of five or six figures–and maybe even more.
Yet Hunter Biden, son of you-know-who, has thought of it and is moving fast to snag some big money. A June 14 report in Artnet had the scoop on Hunter’s ambitions and seemed to repay the scoop with a flatteringly aspirational headline: “We Spoke to Hunter Biden About His New Life as a Full-Time Artist, and His Personal Quest for ‘Universal Truth’ Through Painting.”
According to the article, Hunter is planning to sell his paintings through art dealer Georges Bergès, whose eponymous gallery boasts outlets in New York City and Berlin. And the price for each piece of art? According to Artnet, somewhere between $75,000 and $500,000. Nice work if you can get it!
Over the course of his 51 years on earth, Hunter Biden has been known for many things—and Breitbart News has closely chronicled his many errancies—but he’s never been known as an artiste. However, he’s now poised to be nouveaux riche.
In the words of another art dealer, Alex Acevedo: “Anybody who buys [one of Hunter’s paintings] would be guaranteed instant profit.” As Acevedo explained, “He’s the president’s son. Everybody would want a piece of that.” We might pause over those last words, which perhaps get to the heart of the matter: Everybody would want a piece of that.
Acevedo further added: “The provenance is impeccable.’’ We can note that the fancy-French word provenance is typically applied to the artwork itself to signify whether or not the genuineness of the work is provable. And yet in this case, the provenance in question seems to refer to the artist himself; it’s all about the DNA, not the brushstrokes.
Acevedo even suggested that the price of a single Biden painting could reach $1 million. Okay, so that’s a lot of money. And yet for context, the federal government will spend nearly $5 trillion this year—and that’s really a lot of money.
Given the stakes involved, what Washington, D.C., lobbyist—at least those interested in currying favor with the Biden administration—wouldn’t be well advised to own a Hunter Biden Original? And the same holds true for many others who might need Uncle Sam for something: tycoons, tyrants, and anyone else who wants a “piece”—to use Acevedo’s apt phrase—of the Biden family pie.
Yet at the same time, some Hunter art-acquirers might be publicity-shy. For whatever reason, they might wish that their purchase of a Hunter painting remain a secret. If so, not to worry because, as Fox Business helpfully reported, buyers from the Georges Bergès Gallery can, if they wish, be kept confidential.
In other words, if you’re a millionaire or billionaire art purchaser, and you don’t want anyone to know that you’re sending money Hunter’s way, that’s okay. It will be kept anonymous. (Of course, even in a private sale, it’s quite possible that Hunter himself would know who bought his painting—and it’s possible that the son of the president might be grateful and might wish somehow to express his gratitude.)
The Road to Riches
As we know, Hunter has rode a hard road from dismissed Navy officer, to shamed lobbyist and international financier, to drug addict with a laptop, to now artiste. And yet Hunter is doing okay, in part to his doting father and in no small part because he has had a little help from his friends.
One such friend seems to be Zoe Kestan, who calls herself “weed slut” (not making this up). Kestan, who Artnet describes as “the lingerie entrepreneur who is better known by her Instagram handle @weed_slut_420,” was reportedly responsible for providing Hunter with “his art-world connections.”
The New York Times, the elite newspaper that is required reading for anyone in haute Biden Democratic circles, was also kind enough to give Hunter a push on the road to Easy Street in a profile on February 28, 2020. The headline set the admiring, helpful tone: “There’s a New Artist in Town. The Name Is Biden.” The Times took note of Hunter’s past tribulations, and yet it chose to view his budding art career as part of his recovery, writing of the younger Biden: ”As he looked to escape temptations, the painting became therapeutic.” Others might have been ruined for doing the same things that Hunter did, and yet in his case, the road to redemption ran through Art.
Indeed, the Times article featured no fewer than nine photographs: one with the younger Biden and his father, and eight more of Hunter and/or his paintings and painting tools. Message: Yes, Hunter is about as connected as they come, and yet at the same time, he is a very serious artist.
Being ever helpful to Hunter’s ambitions, the Times even quoted prominent collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, a queen of the art scene in Manhattan and Palm Beach, saying that she “loves the idea” of Hunter entering the art world, adding, “There’s probably going to be a lot of curiosity.”
Such encouragement from a deep-pocketed art collector is exactly what any aspiring artist needs. So maybe we should think of the Times and DeWoody as partners of a kind, teaming up to help on Hunter’s marketing campaign.
So now more than a year later, it’s little wonder that Hunter’s art career is kicking off so nicely. Indeed, art dealer Bergès says that the value—or at least the price—of Hunter’s art could go way higher than the current asking numbers. After all, Bergès says, Hunter’s art has “authenticity” (now there’s a good salesman at work).
Indeed, Bergès compares Hunter’s work to that of pricey artists Lucien Freud (one of whose paintings sold in 2018 for $29 million), and Francis Bacon (one of his paintings sold in 2013 for $142 million).
With such monster numbers dancing around, we should step back and think to ourselves: We don’t know much of anything about Hunter’s financial relationship with Bergès. For instance, we might wonder: Has any money already changed hands between Hunter and Bergès? Why exactly did Hunter sign on with the little-known Bergès, as opposed to a big-name art dealer like Christie’s or Sotheby’s? Is it because Bergès simply out-hustled those larger firms? Or might there be something more going on? Something that a larger and more scrutinized firm might not wish to be a part of?
And come to think of it, we don’t know anything at all about Hunter’s financial relationship with anyone else in the art world—if any such financial relationships exist. As a private citizen, Hunter has no obligation to report anything to anyone, except the IRS.
Speaking of money, now might be a good time to take stock of the global art market, which last year totaled $67 billion. Much of that money, of course, is simply froth. That is, collectors overpaying for reasons that economist Thorstein Veblen identified in his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, the volume that gave us the memorable phrase “conspicuous consumption.”
As Veblen wrote, “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure.” To put that another way, the conspicuous consumer spends whatever he or she feels like, oftentimes just to make a point about how much money they have to spend.
And this desire to spend leads to some bizarre bouts of price-inflation, all based on the behind-the-scenes cleverness of some art dealer. For instance, back in 2005, the 16th century Italian Renaissance painting Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) sold for a mere $1,175. At that time, it was thought to be a painting merely associated maybe with the great Leonardo da Vinci—its provenance, to use that fancy word, was in deep dispute.
But then a British art dealer named Robert Simon persuaded London’t National Gallery to include the painting in its 2011 da Vinci show, thus stamping the painting as a genuine da Vinci. And at that point, the value of the painting exploded. In 2017, a buyer in Abu Dhabi paid $450 million for the work. (As an amusing aside, we can add that the buyer also has a dubious provenance. The real purchaser was believed to be Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. In other words, maybe the painting is fake, but then maybe the buyer is fake too.)
Still, the money that changed hands is real. The astronomical escalation in the price of Salvator Mundi in just a dozen years amounted to nearly 40,000 percent. In the cynical words of art historian Charles Hope writing in the London Review of Books, “It is hard not to be impressed by the skill with which Simon promoted his picture,” adding that the da Vinci designation seems to be “more a marketing ploy than a contribution to knowledge.”
The overall point here is that the art world is a wilderness of mirrors, a plutocratic funhouse warped by millions and billions of dollars in which little is what it is purported to be. And now this is Hunter’s domain.
Indeed, in this bizarro world, it’s impossible to pin down the value of any art; there are simply too many churning—even corrupt—variables to track. In the words of economist Allison Schrager, “The value of contemporary art isn’t based on fundamentals.” She added, “especially with emerging artists . . . art has no objective intrinsic value.”
So given the lack of “fundamentals” and “objective intrinsic value,” who sets the price? Answer: dealers wheel and deal. As Schrager puts it, “Dealers are manipulating prices in a market where they have a financial interest.”
Georges Bergès is one such dealer. And since he’s a private citizen, we have no idea what marketing and financial strategies he might be using and with whom he’s using them. For all the reasons we have seen, the price of art is infinitely variable. It’s hard for anyone to determine a “fair price.”
This murkiness makes the art market a natural magnet for those who might wish to squander money–or to launder money. A bipartisan report last year from the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded that Russian oligarchs have laundered at least $91 million and perhaps much more via the art world. “Given the intrinsic secrecy of the art industry,” the report found, “it is clear that change is needed in this multi-billion dollar industry.”
In the meantime, we have no idea what marketing and financial strategies Hunter might be using. We shouldn’t forget, after all, that it wasn’t that long ago that the younger Biden was lobbying, or investing, or something, for and with Ukrainian oligarchs and Chinese moguls.
Indeed, Hunter’s ability to be always in proximity to big money has drawn the attention of Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) and a Breitbart senior contributor. Speaking to Breitbart’s Hannah Bleau, Schweizer said, “Hunter Biden was repeatedly hired and given deals by foreign entities that he was clearly not qualified for in the hopes of getting favors from his father.” And so, Schweizer continued, “It is not a stretch to believe that foreign entities will pay for or commission his works of art at inflated prices to do the same.”
So yes, while the world art market is currently estimated to be about $67 billion a year, it could always get bigger. Bigger, that is, if Hunter’s paintings proved to be really popular in cities such as Moscow, K’yiv, or Beijing.
Hunter Biden, private citizen and artist that he is, has no legal obligation to tell us a thing about how he’s making money. On the other hand, his loving father, Joe Biden, 46th president of the United States, has plenty of legal and ethical obligations to the public. And so he and his White House will have to decide how they’re going to deal with Hunter, who looks increasingly like a billion-dollar loophole.