In the arts, it’s never been uncommon for artists to have famous last names or well-connected parents. Having the kind of connections necessary to share one’s work can make all the difference when artists are constantly fighting to capture an audience’s attention. Willow Smith, who was able to launch a successful music career as the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, or Jim Carrey, who turned his comedy career into a successful painting career, come to mind. The latest member of this select group of affluent artists trying to make it big in the art world is Hunter Biden.
Biden’s foray into the art world has not been without pushback, though. His work will be sold at the Georges Bergès Gallery in Soho, with estimated starting prices ranging between $75,000 and $500,000. The cost of these paintings has critics worried for two reasons: first, these prices are surprisingly high for an artist’s first show; and second, wealthy patrons who will buy these expensive artworks may want to use this as a way to pay for political influence with Hunter Biden’s father, President Joe Biden.
In order to avoid the risk that Hunter Biden’s art will be used to gain influence within the Biden administration, the White House has devised a plan and strict set of rules that the sale of each piece must abide by. Each sale will be kept secret so that Biden and the public will not know who is purchasing his art. Likewise, the gallery will screen each sale before it goes through, preventing sales that offer a price that drastically exceeds the piece’s estimated value
Despite these precautions, critics still have their concerns. The most recent cycle of headlines surrounding this issue has revealed that Hunter Biden still plans to meet and mingle with the potential buyers who will be attending his gallery opening in Los Angeles and New York City. When pressed by reporters about how this is not in violation of the plan to keep buyers’ identities anonymous, White House press secretary Jen Psaki commented that “[Biden]’s not going to have any conversations related to the selling of art. That will be left to the gallerist as was outlined in the agreement that we announced just a few weeks ago.”
This kind of close contact with interested buyers has made critics (this one included) even more skeptical of Biden’s “secret sale” plan and for good reason. One does not have to have any knowledge of government ethics and security to even begin to imagine all the ways in which these supposed ethical safeguards will inevitably falter. What’s to stop the attendees of Biden’s gallery openings from dropping a casual comment about how they can’t wait to bid on a piece, or how lovely they imagine “Untitled #2” will look in their living room? Even if these attendees do not ultimately place a bid for one of Biden’s paintings, their mere attendance is still suggestive enough indicating the kind of monetary support they would be willing to lend to Biden, and the White House by extension. Furthermore, given the nature of what Biden is selling, it seems unlikely that the new owners of the art will remain anonymous for long, even if the White House’s plan were to go as seamlessly as Jen Psaki says it will. The whole point of art is that it be displayed, interpreted, and shared, which these buyers will surely want to do after having just spent half a million dollars on a Hunter Biden original. With all of these factors in mind, it seems that the Bidens’ plan to keep this art sale totally anonymous from both Hunter and the public, is entirely for show.
Most media outlets reporting on this story talk about Biden’s art as if they cannot fathom anyone wanting to buy the art for anything other than political influence. To be fair, Biden’s paintings aren’t really the kind of visionary work that merit the expensive price tags he is demanding, nor does he have the kind of artistic clout or acclaim to back him up. Mostly abstract and created spreading alcohol ink across a canvas by blowing on it through a metal straw, his works evoke what a New York magazine art critic called “Generic Post Zombie Formalism illustration.” Some critics have described Biden’s work as having “a hotel art aesthetic,” and this evaluation certainly holds up in the geometrically mundane subjects of the art and the works’ uninspired names which mostly play on some variation of “Untitled *insert number here*.”
So yes, it’s incredibly easy to criticize Hunter Biden’s gallery opening on just about every level, from his questionable intentions all the way to the quality of the art itself. Still, as younger generations become increasingly disinterested in purchasing art and visiting galleries in person, it feels a little wrong to take the bait and entirely cast aside Bidens’s work as a pretentious attempt to exchange bad art for money and political influence. Maybe there is room to take Biden seriously, even if his execution was lacking. Biden began painting as part of recovering from years of drug addiction and “poor decision making.” And though his art doesn’t appeal to me, I would be willing to believe that perhaps someone out there might be moved by Biden’s art and see something in it that others do not (something other than a chance for a political power grab, that is).
But if he wants to be taken seriously as an artist, the reality is that Hunter is going to have to distance himself from the Biden name, especially while his father is in office. No matter how groundbreaking his art might become, his name will constantly cloud over his work and cause buyers to eye his work with greedy political hunger instead of genuine artistic appreciation. Of course in doing so, by selling his art without his name attached to it, Biden would never be able to ask such lofty prices for his work as he currently does. So Biden will have to choose: to be a genuine artist or a political chess piece who happens to like watercolors. As of right now, it looks like he has chosen the latter.