The art of Hunter Biden's latest deal

The art of Hunter Biden's latest deal
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Just when we had said good riddance to four years of family dealing during the Trump era, Hunter Biden turns up like a bad penny. That howling you hear in the distance is the Fox newsroom erupting in uproarious glee.

According to an article in The Washington Post, Hunter Biden is about to dive into the murky waters of the art world, and his dealer has set the price range for his work at an eye-popping $75,000 to $500,000.

Paintings by even well-known impressionists from the 19th century can fall within that price range. And they’re all dead.

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At first blush, this might seem like simply a refrain of Biden’s joining the board of energy company Burisma in Ukraine, in which he profited off his father’s name when the latter was vice president. But in the Burisma case, no evidence was found of then-Vice President BidenJoe BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE doing favors for his son’s company. It simply looked bad. It was Hunter Biden shamelessly sponging off his father’s name while embarrassing his father.

In this case, though, Hunter’s deep dive has the White House preposterously in tow. According to the Post report, White House officials helped craft an ethics agreement to govern purchases of the artwork. The agreement calls for the nondisclosure of purchaser and purchase price, even to the First Son.

Why in the world would the White House have any involvement in this matter, either with a ten-foot pole or one of any other length? Hunter Biden has just proven a pattern of taking advantage of his father’s position. Just as it’s impossible to legislate morality, it’s equally unlikely that ethics constraints can survive in a partnership between an operator like Hunter and the shadowy spheres of the art world. This is a lose-lose proposition for the White House, and it invites ridicule, conspiracy theories or worse.

Imagine the endless conspiracy possibilities there are, to the delight of right-wing media, when you combine Hunter Biden, the White House and the netherworld of art. There is already an abundance of secrecy in the art world; there’s the oft-murky secondary market; the potential for money- laundering and sanctions-evasion; questions about real or fake gavel prices and purchaser identities.

Then, throw into the mix the Q-Anon conspiracy mindset, Hannity & Carlson et. al., Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE, Russian bots ... the possibilities are endless for creating havoc, politically. This is truly amateur-hour at the White House.

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This is not to say that the White House or President Biden are in on the art of this deal. But in negotiating the "ethics" deal, they are trying to nail Jell-O to the proverbial wall. It legitimizes the illegitimate and the impossible. If the president wants to be involved, he and his son should have family discussions about how embarrassing this is for the president, and then walk away.

Ethics attorney Walter Schaub, via tweet, said the White House “outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer.” Well said.

There are two ways to make it as an artist. The first is the conventional route — go to a prominent art school; get juried into shows; exhibit your work; earn solo shows; build your resume. The more you sell, the higher the price you can charge. But first you have to pay your dues.

The second way is to have a "bigfoot" sponsor you. Jackson Pollack had Peggy Guggenheim. Hunter Biden has, apparently, his father. What a life. For any artist, that’s the dream scenario. Hunter Biden never had to pay dues. His dream came true, though, thanks to his dad.

The arrangement Hunter has with his New York dealer seemingly draws him into the realm of art as currency, rather than art for the sake of art. The dealer sets his prices artificially, or “subjectively.” The dealer wants a hefty commission, so he subjectively jacks up the price. Any typical artist who jacks up his prices, beyond what normal purchasers will pay, will starve — but not if you’ve got a bigfoot. How did Pollack get so famous and collectible by randomly flinging paint onto a canvas using his “drip style?” Because Pollack had art collector/socialite Guggenheim supporting him and showing him off, giving him entrée into her world.

The difference between Hunter and Pollack, in the world of art as currency, is that Pollack’s works are still a great long-term investment; Hunter’s likely are not. The value of Hunter’s works are most probably short-term — specifically, either four or eight years long. After the Biden presidency, collectors will be dumping their Hunters. 

And that’s precisely why this Hunter Biden art arrangement stinks. There is little value in his art other than Joe Biden’s name. For that very reason, given all the ethical hollowness of the last administration, the White House should toss the ten-foot pole arrangement and wash its hands of the whole mess.

Kris Kolesnik is a 34-year veteran of federal government oversight. He spent 19 years as senior counselor and director of investigations for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Kolesnik then became executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Finally, he spent 10 years working with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General as the associate inspector general for external affairs.