Art gallery owner selling Hunter Biden’s paintings estimates they’ll go for $75,000 to $500,000 each

Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden

  • A gallery owner selling Hunter Biden’s paintings estimates they could go from $75,000 to $500,000 each.
  • The gallery owner will sell Hunter’s artwork without disclosing who buys them, even to Biden.
  • The arrangement puts the White House in an ethical gray area, experts told The Washington Post.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A gallery owner who struck an arrangement to sell Hunter Biden’s paintings says the individual pieces of art could go for anywhere from $75,000 to $500,000 each, The Washington Post reports.

White House officials came to an unprecedented agreement with the gallery that allows Hunter, President Joe Biden’s eldest son, to earn a living from his art while not knowing who buys his paintings.

Hunter took up painting as a hobby during his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and found refuge in art while he was at the center of the 2019 impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, he told The New York Times for an expansive 2020 feature on his art.

Under the terms of the arrangement, the gallery owner, Georges Bergès, will set the prices of the art himself, won’t disclose who bids on and purchases the paintings, and will reject offers that seem too high to just be for the art alone.

Read more: Republicans are salivating over going after Hunter Biden if they win the majority in 2022

Still, ethics experts told The Post that the agreement falls into an ethical gray area because of the often-secretive nature of art purchases and how difficult it can be to trace who buys and sells expensive artwork. Importantly, they said, it doesn’t entirely preclude someone who wants to exert influence over the Biden White House from trying to do so via a painting.

Richard Painter, the former top White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, told The Post the whole thing is “a really bad idea.”

“The initial reaction a lot of people are going to have is that he’s capitalizing on being the son of a president and wants people to give him a lot of money. I mean, those are awfully high prices,” he said.

This is another ethical quandary the White House faces over Hunter’s business dealings and how they could influence the Biden administration. While no evidence emerged that Hunter’s work has unduly influenced his father, Hunter’s work for Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma Holdings drew scrutiny and was at the center of Trump’s first impeachment.

The latest development also comes as Republicans are gearing up to launch congressional investigations into Hunter if they retake the House majority in 2022, with high-profile acrimonious public hearings and probes, Insider reported.

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Facebook moderators are told that singing karaoke might help them cope with filtering graphic, violent content, a worker said. ‘You don’t always feel like singing after you’ve seen someone battered to bits.’

mark zuckerberg facebook
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Facebook content moderators are told singing karaoke might help them cope with their job, one moderator said Wednesday.
  • Moderators sift through graphic content including child exploitation, suicide, and violence.
  • “You don’t always feel like singing, frankly, after you’ve seen someone battered to bits,” Isabella Plunkett said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook content moderators are advised to sing karaoke and paint to cope with filtering disturbing, graphic content from the social-media platform all day, a worker told a government committee on Wednesday.

Content moderators trawl through graphic posts, pictures, and videos that users have uploaded onto the site and delete some of them, with the aim of making Facebook more user-friendly.

During a hearing on Facebook’s treatment of subcontracted content moderators in the Irish Parliament, moderator Isabella Plunkett, who works for Covalen, one of Facebook’s largest contractors in Ireland, said Facebook’s support for moderators was well-intentioned, but insufficient for the strain of the job.

“To help us cope, they offer ‘wellness coaches,'” the 26-year-old said. “These people mean well, but they’re not doctors. They suggest karaoke or painting but you don’t always feel like singing, frankly, after you’ve seen someone battered to bits.”

Child exploitation, suicide, and graphic violence are just some of the types of content Plunkett said she sees on a daily basis.

“I have horrible lucid dreams about the things I’ve seen and for months I’ve been taking antidepressants because of this content,” she told the committee.

She separately received a referral to the company doctor, but didn’t hear back about a follow-up appointment, she said.

Read more: Facebook delays meeting with advertisers after Oversight Board kicks Trump ban back to the platform

Facebook has been heavily criticized for its treatment of these workers. Most recently, a Facebook content moderator in Texas reportedly shared a note internally condemning the company for advising workers to do “breathing exercises” after looking at disturbing content.

Like other content moderators, Plunkett wasn’t allowed to speak to her friends and family about her work because she signed a non-disclosure agreement when she started the job, she said.

“You feel alone.”

Moderators are told to limit their exposure to self-harm and child abuse to two hours every day, but that doesn’t happen, Plunkett said, without elaborating.

A Facebook spokesperson told Insider that the company provides support for its content reviewers, “as we recognise that reviewing certain types of content can sometimes be hard.”

Content moderators have “in-depth training” and access to psychological support for their wellbeing, the spokesperson said.

“We are also employing technical solutions to limit their exposure to potentially graphic material as much as possible. This is an important issue, and we are committed to getting this right,” they added.

A Covalen spokesperson told Insider in a statement: “We value our employees and the vital work they do. Content moderation is critical in keeping our online communities safe but we know that reviewing certain types of content on social media platforms can be difficult.”

They said Covalen provides a range of well-being measures for moderators, including 24-hour support and supervision, wellness coaching by “highly-qualified professionals,” and enhanced training on trauma, stress management, and personal resilience.

Plunkett said that her job as a moderator was to “train the algorithm” and pick up particular hate speech and graphic videos so that one day a machine will be able to do it, rather than humans.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2019 that some of the stories of Facebook content moderators struggling to cope with the daily work were “a little overdramatic.” Zuckerberg made the comments during a company-wide meeting in the summer of that year, in response to an employee question on news reports featuring traumatized content moderators. The audio was obtained by The Verge.

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Prehistoric cavemen starved themselves of oxygen to induce hallucinations and inspire their ancient paintings, study finds

cave paintings
Prototype of painting of the facsimile of the Chauvet cave, which contains some of the earliest known cave paintings Arc, in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc.

  • Prehistoric cave dwellers living in Europe starved themselves of oxygen to make art, researchers say.
  • An Israeli study found that cavemen purposefully did this to help them interact with the cosmos.
  • The study explains why so many ancient paintings are deep inside cave systems.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Prehistoric cave dwellers living in Europe purposefully starved themselves of oxygen to hallucinate while creating their decorative wall paintings, a groundbreaking new study has found.

Researchers have been questioning for years why so many of the world’s oldest paintings were located in often pitch-black tunnel systems, far away from cave entrances.

But a recent study by Tel Aviv University now reveals that the location was deliberate because it induced oxygen deprivation and caused cavemen to experience a state called hypoxia.

Hypoxia can bring about symptoms including shortness of breath, headaches, confusion, and rapid heartbeat, which can lead to feelings of euphoria, near-death experiences, and out-of-body sensations. The team of researchers believes it would have been “very similar to when you are taking drugs”, the Times reported.

Read more: These 3 student influencers are earnings thousands of dollars on YouTube by posting videos about exam tips and study hacks

“It appears that Upper Paleolithic people barely used the interior of deep caves for daily, domestic activities. Such activities were mostly performed at open-air sites, rock shelters, or cave entrances,” the study says, according to CNN.

“While depictions were not created solely in the deep and dark parts of the caves, images at such locations are a very impressive aspect of cave depictions and are thus the focus of this study,” it adds.

According to Ran Barkai, the co-author of the study, the cavemen used fire to light up the caves, which would simultaneously also reduce oxygen levels. Painting in these conditions was done deliberately and as a means of connecting to the cosmos, the researcher says.

“It was used to get connected with things,” Barkai told CNN, adding that cave painters often thought of the rock face as a portal connecting their world with the underworld, which was associated with prosperity and growth. The researcher also suggested that cave paintings could have been used as part of a kind of initiation rite.

The fascinating cave paintings, which date from around 40,000 to 14,000 years ago, depict animals such as mammoths, bison, and ibex.

“It was not the decoration that rendered the caves significant but the opposite: The significance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration,” the study reads, according to CNN.

The study focused on decorated caves in Europe, mostly in Spain and France. It was published last week in the scientific journal “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture.”

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Sơn mài is a costly form of lacquer painting in Vietnam. Here’s what makes these paintings so expensive

  • Sơn mài is a traditional Vietnamese form of lacquer painting.
  • The paint is made with a toxic lacquer harvested from a tree native to Southeast Asia called the Rhus succedanea.
  • Along with costly raw materials, these pieces require months of applying several layers of paint and sanding them back.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Sơn mài is a traditional Vietnamese form of lacquer painting created using a toxic lacquer harvested from one region of the country. It requires months of application and sanding back layers of paint to build up the image. Last year, a sơn mài painting sold at auction for $972,000. So, what makes these paintings so special? And why are they so expensive?

Phạm Chính Trung: You never truly know what’s underneath a lacquer painting as you are completing it. And so, the process involves the artists sanding the work into shape, slowly revealing the colors, giving the artist a sense of anticipation as he is crossing the finishing line, and artists love that feeling.

Narrator: Phạm Chính Trung has dedicated almost 50 years to mastering sơn mài and knows how equally tiring and rewarding the craft can be. It is an art form of incredible value in Vietnamese culture, for both the time and skill it requires and the exclusive natural materials needed to make it. The process of making lacquer paint begins in the forests of Vietnam, where planters collect resin from a toxic wax tree native to Southeast Asia called the Rhus succedanea. Planters must cut into more than 400 trees to retrieve between 1 and 1.5 kilograms of resin.

Tạ Thị Thu Hương: The rhus tree is harvested after three years of planting, after which it can be harvested for four to five years. To get the sap, we’ll have to start at 4 a.m. Making incisions in the bark, using mussel shells to catch the resin. We collect that resin after three to four hours. 

Narrator: After harvesting, the lacquer must be removed of any impurities and mixed for several hours before it’s suitable for painting. One of the principle features of sơn mài is the depth created by adding several layers of paint and sanding them back. These layers aren’t always visible in the finished work but are what differentiate lacquer painting from other common painting styles. With oil painting, artists paint from back to front, painting the landscape first and the details later. The process of lacquer painting is the opposite.

Phạm Chính Trung: The two styles are a bit different. Because the sketch and the details are painted over, they can’t be seen once the painting is finished but will eventually reappear when it’s sanded down. It’s nerve-wracking for that reason. It’s hard to mess up the picture, but you have to see if you have used the right material. Are the colors in the right shades? Right? Are they intense enough? Your technique shows in those contrasting features. Without it, the painting becomes homogeneous, almost like an oil painting.

Narrator: Artists mix natural ingredients to create colors, like eggshells to make white or cinnabar, a toxic ore, for red. In some cases, artists add leaves of silver, sometimes even gold, to create a gentle sheen. These substances can be one of the costliest parts of sơn mài painting.

Phạm Chính Trung: The base of cinnabar is mercury. 1 ounce of cinnabar, on the palm of your hand, is just the size of a quail egg, but you can feel the weight. You see – 1 million Vietnamese dongs (~$45) for a tiny bag like this. It’s very costly to use, material-wise.

Narrator: While the raw materials of the painting may be more expensive than many other styles, the skill and the work of the artist are what set the final value. Along with the immense patience sơn mài requires, each work is unique and unpredictable. That’s because painters are never quite sure how the layers will resurface through sanding. This can either increase the value of the work or force an artist to start over.

Phạm Chính Trung: Usually, traditional lacquer painters, if they’ve understood the technique and a clear idea of their initial sketch, can be in control of 80% of their idea, 80% of their ideas. The remaining 20% is luck. Accident. Sometimes it can make the painting much better than originally intended or fail the requirements during other times. The artist must start over then.

Narrator: Painters must be careful to let each layer fully dry before sanding. Otherwise, colors or designs could be ruined. There’s no set amount of time a layer takes to dry, as it largely depends on the weather that day.

Phạm Chính Trung: Each time a painting is finished – paintings that use traditional materials always need to dry. They need humidity. Ideally, when indoor humidity is between 70% and 80% the lacquer will dry very quickly. It can’t dry on a dry day. It’s because of the air humidity. The water vapor in the air is the catalyst for components in the lacquer to connect with one another, resulting in the lacquer drying. If all goes well, it’ll dry in a couple of days. If the air is dry, for example, it can take three days for the paint to cure sometimes. To make one lacquer painting, it can take months.

Narrator: After weeks of work, pieces are polished with coal powder, which creates the smooth surface and lasting shine of sơn mài. Artists have used lacquer for its glossy finish for thousands of years. One of its best-known applications is Japanese lacquerware — decorative pieces of furniture, boxes, and dinnerware. But in the early 20th century, Vietnamese artists developed an interest in lacquer painting and created a style unique to the world. Impressive as these works can be, the process is both costly and arduous. And that’s why Phạm Chính Trung believes the future of this tradition will depend on finding more artists willing to learn it.

Phạm Chính Trung: To maintain it, we need people. Simply relying on the painters who are passionate about it won’t work. It won’t last. You can’t maintain it that way. There needs to be growth.  If we only care about finding ways of restoring a tradition when it is gone, it’s impossible. Right? How can we? Once it’s lost, the line is broken.

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