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How Hunter Biden’s Fame Helped — Then Hurt — His Art Career

WASHINGTON – George Bergès thought Hunter Biden’s art would sell. 

Biden had struggled with addiction, caused scandal and suffered public humiliation, yet he’d sobered up in 2019 and was trying to turn his life around as a painter. And it helped that he had a famous last name.

But Bergès, who owns an art gallery in New York and held exclusive rights to sell Biden’s art and hosted several shows for him, did not renew his contract last year. 

“I never expected the whole security issue or the death threats and people assuming political affiliation, which was completely wrong,” Bergès told lawmakers this month during a four-hour deposition on Capitol Hill, according to a transcript

Bergès, who’s donated to both Democratic and Republican campaigns (including Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign), seemed to dislike that people made assumptions about his politics based on his affiliation with Hunter Biden. And he didn’t like the death threats, which he said were ongoing.

“It was a little bit more than I could chew,” he said. “I kind of wanted my life back. So I haven’t agreed to renew that contract now.”

The revelation that Bergès did not renew his contract with the president’s son runs counter to the story Republicans have told about Hunter Biden. They’ve accused him of cashing in on his family name, taking millions from foreign nationals and fancy art buyers, despite being totally unqualified, because he was actually just selling access to his father. Bergès’ decision shows there were clear limits to the market for Hunter Biden’s work, rather than an unlimited desire to bribe the Biden family.

Bergès said, essentially, that the Biden brand became a problem – he has previously said hackers have targeted his gallery – and it contributed to the decision to drop Hunter Biden’s contract. A spokesperson for Biden’s attorney did not respond to a query about whether he had found a new gallerist. 

Bergès is one of several Hunter Biden associates Republicans are hauling in for interviews as they scrounge for a high crime or misdemeanor in their impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden. So far, they’ve poured over Hunter Biden’s bank records, scoured thousands of transactions and failed to substantiate any of the bribery allegations they trumpeted last year.  

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), right, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, prepare for a news conference on their demand that Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, testify at a closed-door deposition on Dec. 13, 2023.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), right, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, prepare for a news conference on their demand that Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, testify at a closed-door deposition on Dec. 13, 2023.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), right, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, prepare for a news conference on their demand that Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, testify at a closed-door deposition on Dec. 13, 2023.

House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) resisted the idea that Hunter Biden had not been a big financial success in his short career as an artist. According to the list of sales Berges provided, Jordan noted that Biden’s art had brought in $1.5 million in less than three years. 

“That’s doing bad?” Jordan asked.

Bergès noted that more than half the sum reflected 11 purchases by Kevin Morris, a wealthy entertainment lawyer who’d recently taken Biden under his wing. Testifying in his own deposition last week, Morris said he’s covered around $5 million worth of Biden’s expenses through loans. He said he had not yet paid Biden his share of the $875,000 worth of art he’d bought from Bergès, explaining that his lawyers and accountants hadn’t determined how to “characterize” the sum, suggesting the art could wind up as a loan repayment. 

Bergès described the Morris purchases as a major outlier. He said only 10 people purchased Biden’s art. 

Jordan couldn’t believe it: “$1.5 million in a 2 1/2 year time period, is that ― that’s not good?” 

After the testimony, Republicans declared Biden’s art career “an ethics nightmare” for the White House, since people could theoretically buy Biden’s art to curry favor with his father’s administration. 

“The vast majority of Hunter Biden’s art has been purchased by Democrat donors, one of whom was appointed by President Biden to a prestigious commission after she purchased Hunter Biden’s art for tens of thousands of dollars shortly after Joe Biden’s inauguration,” House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said. 

The person Comer was referring to, Elizabeth Naftali, was appointed by President Biden to the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad in 2022, an unpaid position. She previously purchased one of Hunter Biden’s pieces from Bergès. Her attorney has said she’s a friend of the Biden family and bought the art only because she liked it. 

When ethics experts raised questions about Biden’s art career in 2021, it was largely because Bergès was reportedly asking for as much as $500,000 for a single painting. 

“Those are awfully high prices,” Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told The Washington Post

Each Biden piece Bergès sold to buyers other than Morris went for less than $100,000, according to the lawmakers’ descriptions of the list Bergès provided. He said he never priced Biden’s work above six figures, contrary to statements attributed to him in 2021, which he blamed on an overzealous publicist. He said other artists on his roster have done better than Biden. 

“If I look at the whole picture of this artist objectively, I would say, ‘OK, this is great that we got someone to do a major acquisition, but let’s look at the general response and what the value is,’” Bergès said. “I would have said, ‘You know, it’s not that impressive.’”

Bergès suggested it pained him to say so because he considered Biden a friend and a great artist with a story, and that selling art means selling both the work and the artist. He repeatedly likened Biden to Rocky Balboa, the fictional small-time boxer who gets an unlikely shot at the big time. 

“Rocky is not supposed to win, but he wins. And that’s to me, America,” Bergès said. “And Hunter is not supposed to win. He should be dead. And he faced a crossroad in his life, which we all do when we’re all struggling with things in our lives. And he could have chosen the easy path, which is to keep going and die, or do the hard thing, which is to change.”

(It’s worth noting that Rocky actually loses to Apollo Creed by a split decision in the first “Rocky” film from 1976, though it’s portrayed as a triumph to have made it to the final bell. Maybe Hunter Biden could do better; Morris told lawmakers he might make a documentary film about the president’s son.)

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) asked Bergès about the apparent contradiction that Biden’s name both helped and hurt his art sales. Bergès likened Biden to Sylvester Stallone – the famous actor who played Rocky and whose art Bergès has also sold – saying fame can be a help or a hindrance.

“So in that sense it was working against him but the same thing with Stallone,” Bergès said. “Can people look at his work objectively without that name overshadowing their ability to actually look to see if the art is good or bad? It can go both ways. And I rolled the dice on it and, yes, there was one big sale but I have to look at the totality of it.” 

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