Art’s Ultimatum: $45M Masterpieces Risk for Assange’s Freedom

An artist threatens to destroy $45 million worth of masterpieces, including works by Picasso and Warhol, if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange dies in prison, spotlighting the clash between art and activism.

Russian artist Andrei Molodkin threatens to destroy art worth $45 million if Julian Assange dies in prison, including works by Picasso, Rembrandt, and Warhol​​​.
The collection, placed in a safe rigged with acid, serves as a protest against the suppression of freedom of speech and information​.
Molodkin's action has sparked a mix of fear and support, highlighting the tension between the value of art and human freedom​.

The Art Ultimatum

Russian artist Andrei Molodkin has issued a dramatic ultimatum tied to the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Molodkin vows to destroy a collection of art masterpieces valued at up to $45 million if Assange dies in prison. This collection includes revered works by Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, and Andy Warhol. These pieces were reportedly donated to Molodkin, who now aims to use them as a stark symbol of protest against Assange’s imprisonment​​​.

The Art on the Line

The threatened collection is no ordinary one; it comprises 16 masterpieces that span several eras and styles, representing some of the most influential artists in history. Besides Picasso, Rembrandt, and Warhol, the collection includes pieces by Jasper Johns, Jannis Kounellis, Robert Rauschenberg, Sarah Lucas, Santiago Sierra, Jake Chapman, and Molodkin himself. These works are currently housed in a 29-ton safe, rigged with acid powder and an accelerator, as part of a project Molodkin titled “Dead Man’s Switch.”

The Motive Behind the Madness

Molodkin’s drastic action is not without its reasons. He aims to spotlight the conditions surrounding Assange’s detention and the broader implications for freedom of expression, speech, and information. By threatening the destruction of invaluable art, Molodkin challenges societal norms, suggesting that destroying art has become more taboo than destroying human life in contemporary discourse.

Logistics and Implications

Every 24 hours, Molodkin must confirm Assange’s well-being to reset a timer that otherwise would release the corrosive materials, potentially destroying the art. The artworks will only be returned if Assange is released from prison. Molodkin is ready to go through with destroying the art, showing he believes freedom is more important than keeping these famous artworks around.

Global Reactions and the Assange Connection

The plan has elicited mixed reactions, with some art collectors expressing fear over the potential accidental destruction of the art. One of the contributors, Giampaolo Abbondio, who owns an art gallery in Milan, revealed his initial reluctance but ultimately agreed to participate, persuaded by Molodkin’s conviction and the message behind the project​.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been incarcerated at Belmarsh prison in London since April 2019, facing extradition to the United States. There, he is charged under the Espionage Act for the publication of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs. If convicted, Assange could face a sentence of up to 175 years, highlighting the severe consequences of his actions in the eyes of the US government​.

As the world watches, the question remains: Can the destruction of art serve as a powerful enough lever to sway the scales of justice?

Grace Angelique

An accomplished Art News Journalist with a decade of experience, Grace has passionately covered global art events, exhibitions, and emerging trends. With a keen eye for aesthetics and a pulse on the art world's undercurrents, Grace has crafted compelling narratives that bridge art and its societal impacts. Her work has graced major publications, offering readers a fresh perspective on contemporary art and its evolving landscape.

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