Hunter Biden, recently announced two upcoming art exhibits of his works on paper and canvas that will be opening September in Los Angeles and October in New York. Or rather I should say his publicist made the announcements to the press and in no time at all, stories were aired on National Public Radio and published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other major news outlets about Hunter Biden the artist. Most artists consider themselves fortunate to be written up in their local newspaper, but this is the U.S. President’s son. Anything he does is international news.
A few years ago, the concern was possible abuse of power in his role on the board of a Ukrainian energy Company Burisma. Investigations found nothing remiss, but the association that perhaps he received the position because of his last name had eyebrows raised. Now one can’t help wonder, if his last name wasn’t Biden, would he have found an art dealer to market his work so quickly?
The association of products with relatives of the President is nothing new. We only have to look back to the previous administration to remember Ivanka Trump’s fashions. And what about Billy Beer, the brew marketed by Jimmy Carter’s brother? But this is art, not a commercial product, so I’d like to think artwork is different.
Biden, who has received no formal art instruction, has been sketching on and off since age seven, according to an article by Adam Poescu published in The New York Times. He is quoted in the article as saying, “Painting is literally keeping me sane.” It’s an honest statement because art has that kind of power. Art can help heal and provide tools to access parts of yourself that can painful to approach any other way.
One has only to read a little bit about Hunter Biden’s life to know he has experienced trauma. At age two he sustained a severe head injury in the auto accident that took the lives of his mother Neilia and sister Naomi. He’s struggled with substance abuse, been through a divorce, a paternity suit, and lost his older brother Beau to brain cancer in 2015. In 1993, he had the opportunity to attend Syracuse University’s Creative Writing Program but chose Yale University law school instead. I can’t help but think, if only he’d chosen the creative writing path, his life would have been quite different. But that’s in the past and it’s the use of visual communication—paint on paper and canvas— that now tugs on his heartstrings.
I think it is wonderful he is producing art that brings him fulfilment and joy. However, there is the question of monetary return. It’s the dollar signs that are creating the headlines. I’m an artist’s daughter, so I know quite a bit about the highs and lows of the art market. Most professional artist take teaching jobs, or do other types of work in addition to seeking grant monies from arts organizations, because they cannot support themselves solely on the sales of their work. When I heard the prices being asked for Hunter Biden’s work, I gasped. Works on paper start at $75,000. Oils are priced as high as $500,000.
Because of the concern that individuals might purchase Hunter Biden’s artwork to curry favor with his father the President, an announcement was made that buyers will remain anonymous to the Biden family and that the art will be seen by appointment only. And here I thought an artist has an exhibit to share their work with the public. Silly me.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Hunter Biden representatives would set to work scheduling a show of his artwork to be exhibited at The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). The museum located in Baltimore, Maryland, is a repository for intuitive self-taught art. Even better would be if the proceeds of any sales were donated to the support of artists and the support of programs for people struggling with drug abuse.
Opportunism vs. altruism. I do not pretend to know Hunter Biden’s finances, but I do know that his memoir Beautiful Things, published by Simon and Schuster in April, received a sizable advance, as much as two million dollars according to the New York Post. Meanwhile, other creatives who have no celebrity connections work at their craft, perhaps never achieving fame or financial stability, but still achieving happiness. It’s the joy that matters at the end of the day, the spark of elation you feel when you’ve created a memorable piece of artwork: play, poem, story, painting, sculpture, photo, song, performance that keeps those wheels turning.