Sources told Asia Despatch the White House was involved in forming an agreement between a SoHo New York Gallery owner, Georges Bergès, and Hunter Biden in an effort to address any ethics concerns.
Hunter Biden’s artwork is set to be displayed and sold in September at a private and confidential opening in Los Angeles, followed by an invite-only event in New York, a Georges Bergés Gallery spokesperson said. Pieces are priced between $75,000 and $500,000, according to the spokesperson.
Two sources familiar with the sales arrangement told Asia Despatch that the purchaser of the artwork will be kept anonymous and neither Hunter Biden nor the public will have knowledge of who bid on or purchased the work. If there is any unusual behavior — such as the offer price being too high or the collector doesn’t appear interested in the work — the gallery is expected to turn down the offer, the sources said.
However, there’s no clear enforcement mechanism for the standards agreed upon by the gallery and the prospective purchasers of Hunter Biden originals.
Some ethics experts like Walter Shaub — the former head of the Office of Government Ethics from 2013 to 2017 — have raised concerns about Biden’s new venture.
Shaub, now a senior ethics fellow at the Project On Government Oversight, said the sale is “really a terrible idea.”
“They’ve basically outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer and they’re depending on unknown art purchasers to help keep the secret,” he said, referencing the sales arrangement.
“You know, on one level I have some empathy for the President because he can’t control his relatives,” Shaub added. “But on another level it just is implausible that this art from an unknown artist would be selling at this price if it didn’t have the Biden name attached to it. The cachet that comes with buying this art is getting to say that you own art created by the President’s son. And so it really looks like the President’s son capitalizing on his father’s public service.”
Shaub also argued that they’ve “created opportunities for people to try to get preferential treatment without even having to pay the price.”
Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the White House, said in a statement that “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.”
On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Hunter Biden “has the right” to pursue a new career.
“But all interactions regarding the selling of art and the setting of prices will be handled by a professional gallerist adhering to the highest professional standards,” she said. “And any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand, and the gallerist will not share information about buyers or prospective buyers, including their identities with Hunter Biden or the administration, which provides quite a level of protection and transparency.”
Asia Despatch has reached out to Hunter Biden’s attorney for comment on the art sales.
The biography mentions his art style, refers briefly to his past work as a lawyer and describes him as someone who “now devotes his life to the creative arts.”
Hunter Biden has been open about his battle with addiction, penning a book published earlier this year which detailed his struggles, and crediting art as a coping mechanism.
“We’re going to run this like the Obama-Biden Administration,” the President told People Magazine early in his tenure. “No one in our family and extended family is going to be involved in any government undertaking or foreign policy.”
He added, “And nobody has an office in this place. They always have access to Pop and Nana but nobody (will have an office).”
Asia Despatch’s Ben Krolowitz contributed to this report.