In Brief

Art and ethics: Hunter Biden’s controversial new career

Hunter has embarked on new career as an artist and is preparing to hold first solo exhibition in October

“There is a long tradition of presidential relatives posing ethical challenges,” said The Washington Post, “but there has never been one quite like this.”

Joe Biden’s son Hunter has embarked on a new career as an artist and is preparing to hold his first solo exhibition in October, in a New York gallery. The art dealer handling the sales expects Biden’s pieces to fetch between $75,000 and $500,000 – a huge amount for an unknown painter with no formal training.

In an effort to prevent anyone using his art as “a conduit” to the first family, the White House has asked the gallery owner to keep the identity of buyers anonymous, even from Hunter, and to reject any unduly high bids. This, says the White House press secretary, will provide “a level of protection and transparency”. “Indeed,” said Miranda Devine in the New York Post. “So much transparency that no one is allowed to know anything.”

The critics have responded to Hunter’s blown-ink abstractions with “a mixture of curiosity and derision”, said Robin Abcarian in the Los Angeles Times. One called his work “Generic Post Zombie Formalism”; another characterised it as having “a hotel art aesthetic”. Clearly, no one would shell out big bucks for these paintings if the artist’s father “were not the most powerful man on the planet”.

It’s not the first time Hunter has profited from his connections, said Kevin D. Williamson in the National Review. He has admitted that he was given his previous $50,000-a-month board position with a Ukrainian energy company because “they saw my name as gold”. Biden should sell his art under a pseudonym or give the proceeds to charity.

Compared to the shameless nepotism of the Trump presidency, this is tame stuff, said Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post. But for a president who has promised “the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history”, it’s still unsatisfactory. To stave off corruption, the White House is “counting on the sole judgement of a gallery owner who stands to make a profit on the deal”. Let’s at least have real transparency, so we can see who’s paying him what.

Hunter, a former alcoholic and drug addict, has very publicly talked about his struggles with living in his father’s shadow, said Ben Davis on Artnet. He took up painting as therapy. If he doesn’t want his art also caught up in his father’s “political narrative”, there’s a simple solution: “don’t do this show now”.

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