Sebastian Smee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic at the Washington Post, suggested the art world is not wholly impressed by Hunter Biden’s latest venture but said a “few people” are looking to make money “from his notoriety.” He likened the scandal-plagued son to a “cafe painter” whose work would not go for more than $1,000 unless the buyer was “related to the artist.”
Smee spoke to CNN about Hunter Biden’s venture into the art world, as the Biden son is working with Georges Bergès, who is expected to hold an exhibition in New York this fall and sell Hunter’s paintings anywhere from $75,000 to half a million dollars.
The general lack of transparency in the art world, which the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations identified as an issue last year, adds to the mounting concerns and suspicions of pay-for-play schemes revolving around a family all too familiar with accusations of alleged “Biden Five” family corruption — from Hunter’s international business dealings to his work on the board of a Ukrainian oligarch-owned oil and gas company while his father served as vice president.
“His work has the feeling of an afterthought. It doesn’t feel like it needed to be made, except perhaps as a therapeutic exercise. I have no trouble with that. It’s as good a reason to make art as any,” Smee said of Hunter’s work, explaining he would “struggle to find compelling reasons to share” Hunter’s work with the public if he were a museum curator.
When asked how the art world has responded to Hunter’s entry into the art scene, Smee said many reacted with “a shoulder shrug,” although he said some have “probably sniff[ed] the chance to make money from his notoriety” alone.
“But for the most part, people with influence in the art world are looking at his work and thinking, ‘Nothing much to see here,'” he explained, adding that Biden’s work has “no real urgency, no underlying poetry.”
“There is none of the sense you get from great art (think Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, or Frida Kahlo) of a powerful personality being concentrated and funneled through the painting you’re looking at,” he continued, appearing to affirm that the prices of Hunter Biden’s art are grossly inflated because of his connections to the White House.
Smee likened Hunter to a “cafe painter,” adding, “by which I mean, you see a certain kind of art in coffee shops, and some of it is OK and a lot of it is bad, and sometimes it’s surprisingly good.”
“But you wouldn’t, unless you were related to the artist, spend more than $1,000 on it,” he added.
In an interview with Artnet over the summer, Hunter explained painting is about trying to bring forth the “universal truth.”
“The universal truth is that everything is connected and that there’s something that goes far beyond what is our five senses and that connects us all,” he explained.
Smee, however, is not impressed.
“Not trying to be unkind (no one is interested in my idea of universal truth either, as far as I know) but I’m not sure how interested I am at the moment in Hunter Biden’s idea of universal truth,” he said.
“I mean, give me a break. What is he? A Bodhisattva? A guru? He may have figured out some stuff for himself, and that’s great. But if I’m searching for universal truths, there are other people I’ll go to first,” he added.
Smee’s critiques follow news of the White House attempting to craft a plan to avoid ethics issues as Hunter begins to sell his pieces. Instead of making the process more transparent, however, the Biden White House is working on a plan to ensure the buyers of Hunter’s art remain anonymous, even to Hunter himself.
As Breitbart News detailed:
In order to avoid these mounting ethical questions, the Biden White House is comprising an arrangement that would leave all buyers of Hunter’s art anonymous — even to the artist himself. According to the Washington Post, the plan will see Bergès determining the price points for the artwork and withholding “all records, including potential bidders and final buyers.”
“The owner, Georges Bergès, has also agreed to reject any offer that he deems suspicious or that comes in over the asking price, according to people familiar with the agreement,” the Post reported.
“This is an absurd solution,” Breitbart News senior contributor and Profiles in Corruption author Peter Schweizer told Breitbart News.
It is genius because — in a very corrupt way, because what was the criticism of Hunter’s previous moneymaking schemes? When he worked went to work for Burisma, the energy company, the criticism was he was getting a million dollars a year. He had no background in Ukrainian energy regulation, no background in energy. Well, art is different than the business world. It’s entirely subjective.
So, if somebody is prepared to send half-a-million dollars to an artist for a piece of art, who can question it? So, in that sense, it’s very genius. But this opens the gateway to massive corruption, Maria, because the art owner, the art partner that he has that’s going to be marketing his art has been very clear that he’s going to market these things overseas. He’s been wanting to break into the Chinese art market for years. And the Senate, actually, in 2019 issued a report talking about how the art world is rife with money laundering and corruption involving foreign oligarchs, because it’s so hard to trace. So it’s a massively troublesome problem. And their explanations simply don’t carry any weight.
Alex Acevedo, owner of the Alexander Gallery in Midtown Manhattan, told the New York Post that anybody who buys Hunter’s art “would be guaranteed instant profit” and also suggested Hunter’s art will sell significantly over its actual value due to his connections to the White House.
“He’s the president’s son. Everybody would want a piece of that. The provenance is impeccable,” he said, suggesting the Biden family name will stand as a major factor, prompting further concerns for the potential of corruption.
Walter Shaub, former ethics chief under former President Barack Obama, also slammed the White House’s proposal, describing it as the sheer “opposite of government ethics”:
The idea’s that even Hunter won’t know, but the WH has outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer. We’re supposed to trust a merchant in an industry that’s fertile ground for money laundering, as well as unknown buyers who could tell Hunter or WH officials? No thanks./2
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 8, 2021
Yeah yeah, I know some folks aren’t going to like this thread because we’re not supposed to criticize the president who’s way better than the ethical disaster named Trump. But, you know what? With democracy on the ropes, ethics has never been more important. And this ain’t it. /4
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 8, 2021
“And White House officials getting involved in any way other than to request transparency amounts to effectively putting an official stamp of approval on the president’s son trading on his father’s public service,” Shaub told Fox News.
Last month, Artnet asked Hunter what his father thinks of the artwork, to which Hunter responded, “My dad loves everything that I do, and so I’ll leave it at that.”