Passing the Smell Test
“There’s something rotten in Denmark.”
I’ve heard that saying all my life and knew it came from Shakespeare, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. Upon looking it up, I found that it’s a line from the Shakespeare play, “Hamlet.” When Marcellus (a guard) sees the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the late king of Denmark, walking over the palace walls, he exclaims, “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.” In the play, the phrase was intended to convey that, just as the old saying goes, “a fish rots from the head down,” the political hierarchy of the day in Denmark was corrupt.
Which leads us to today’s topic -- 51-year old Hunter Biden’s sudden foray into the world of international fine art. In the grand scheme of things, especially considering everything else going on in our country (the pandemic, immigration, racial disharmony, crime, etc.), it may not appear to be worth discussing. But please stick with me here to see why I believe that it matters.
Hunter Biden creates his works of art by blowing ink through a straw. And now, having never sold any art before his father became President, the first-son will soon be selling his artwork in the George Berges Gallery in New York in October. There will be a special VIP preview for collectors in Los Angeles in September. Fifteen of his paintings are being offered for sale anywhere from $75,000 to $500,000.
Photo credit: Hunter Biden, 019 (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Georges Bergès Gallery.
We already know a lot about Hunter Biden. He’s been under investigation by federal prosecutors since 2018 for alleged criminal activity involving his taxes and felony gun violations. He also came under scrutiny for taking a position on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma, for $3 million dollars. This action was taken during the time his dad, VP Joe Biden, was handling official Ukrainian diplomacy for the Obama administration. Interesting to note that Hunter had ZERO experience in any utility business. Hunter also pursued a questionable deal in China. In a purported email found on his notorious laptop, he disclosed he had a consulting arrangement with China’s largest energy company, CEFC China Energy, that would pay him $10 million a year for “introductions alone.” Hunter is STILL working to “unwind” his 10% stake in the Chinese company.
And now, we learn that Hunter has left behind the world of lobbying and high finance to become a fine artist. To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, the White House has come out with an ethics policy saying that any buyers of Hunter’s artwork will remain anonymous and only the gallery owner will know the names of buyers.
As well-intentioned as that sounds, the international art world is known to be full of secretive buyers paying exorbitant prices for things that have no fixed tangible value. In Hunter's case, consider that a foreign entity could easily front a buyer to skirt sanctions, or some donor-backed lobbyist could make a big purchase to gain preference or goodwill from the White House. Is it crazy to think that a first-time artist blowing ink through a straw would be able to command such prices if the name Biden wasn’t attached?
All this is under control according to the White House. The agreed-upon system is that the gallery owner will not disclose the names of buyers and that “any offer that is suspicious would be rejected out of hand by the gallery owner.” Okay, that makes me feel better.
Given that a first-time artist is selling 15 paintings on the international stage for $75,000 to $500,000 each, do you think ANYTHING about that rises to the level of “suspicious?”
So, to summarize, let’s follow this logic through:
· The President’s son creates paintings by blowing ink through a straw onto paper.
· He then sells said paintings at exorbitant prices (because of his relationship to the President?).
· The White House essentially blesses this arrangement (allowing him to profit off of his father’s public service?).
· The White House agrees to keep buyers' names SECRET in order to prevent parties with vested interests from gaining access to the President.
· We can never know if anyone who buys these paintings gains access to the President because the White House is keeping it SECRET.
Our right to ethics and transparency has essentially been outsourced to an art gallery owner. What could go wrong?
This all happened following Joe Biden’s post-election pledge of transparency where he told CNN, "My son, my family will not be involved in any business, any enterprise that is in conflict with or appears to be in conflict with where there’s appropriate distance from the presidency and government.” Okay…. good to know.
Wouldn’t you think the White House would want to keep its distance from any appearance of impropriety, especially after all the controversy surrounding Hunter? In addition to his murky business dealings, he's been caught up in other scandals; including leaving crack pipes in rental cars, the Secret Service retrieving a gun Hunter’s s wife tossed in a trash can behind a grocery store, having a baby with a stripper while married to his dead brother’s wife, and the infamous laptop.
The whole thing makes no sense. And it could be “much ado about nothing,” to quote Shakespeare again (sorry).
I guess what bothers me is not so much that Hunter is selling his artwork; but that it's indicative of the larger issue of mistrust that this administration generates.
I should have probably just skipped this topic and focused on something else, but it’s really sticking with me. Just as in Shakespeare’s Denmark, there is something rotten in the current political hierarchy because nothing seems to pass the smell test.
Who knows, I'm no art critic. Maybe Hunter will be the next Andy Warhol.
Oh, yeah. By the way… in case, you have an interest in Presidential artwork but can't swing $500,000 for a straw-blown ink painting, you have another option. George W. Bush took up painting after he left office. He has a hardback collection of oil paintings entitled, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants."
You can buy a copy of his art book for your coffee table on Amazon for about 18 bucks.
“If something bad smells in the basement, it will eventually make its way to the attic.”
To make sure you receive future posts, please subscribe with your email in the field below.
Your information will never be shared.