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15 Feb, 2024 14:23

Artist vows to destroy $45mn worth of art if Assange dies

Masterpieces by Picasso and Rembrandt will allegedly be dissolved in acid if the WikiLeaks co-founder dies in prison
Artist vows to destroy $45mn worth of art if Assange dies

Russian-born artist Andrey Molodkin says he has arranged for 16 highly valuable paintings to be destroyed, should WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange die in prison. Assange has been jailed in Britain for almost five years and is to make his final attempt to avoid extradition to the US this month.

The collaborative art destruction project was reported on Tuesday by British media and is endorsed by Stella Assange, the wife of the imprisoned journalist. The hearing of his application is scheduled for next week.

According to Molodkin, he has convinced several people in the art world to lend their property for his ‘Dead Man’s Switch’ project.

The works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Andy Warhol and others are now stored in plywood boxes in a 29-ton safe somewhere in France, alongside two barrels of chemicals, the artist told Sky News.

A countdown timer needs to be reset every 24 hours, or a pump will mix the acid powder and the accelerant, dissolving the contents, artworks estimated to be worth $45 million. Only people “close” to Assange can reset the timer if they are certain of his wellbeing. If the journalist is released, the safe will be reopened and the paintings returned to their owners, Molodkin claimed.

“I’m not trying to destroy art, and I don’t believe I will have to,” the 57-year-old told The Guardian about the project. He envisions it as an invitation to reflect on why destroying a person’s life “means nothing, but destroying art is a huge taboo in the world.”

Molodkin, like many others, perceives Assange as a champion of free speech who is in prison because of his work as a publisher. The US has charged him under the Espionage Act with crimes related to his work with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. If extradited and convicted, Assange faces a potential 175-year sentence.

His supporters say the prosecution sets a dangerous precedent for all journalists who may have to report something negative about the US or its allies like WikiLeaks did.

“It’s much more important now to discuss and communicate in the cultural sphere,” Molodkin said of his approach. “I don’t trust any politicians anymore. They’re corrupt. I believe solutions can only be found on the cultural platform now.”

Italian art-gallery owner Giampaolo Abbondio told Sky News that he lent the Picasso to Molodkin, who is a long-time acquaintance. He was initially reluctant, but was convinced that it’s “more relevant for the world to have one Assange than an extra Picasso,” he said.

One of Molodkin’s paintings is in the safe too, media reported.