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Acid to destroy masterpieces by Picasso, Rembrandt and Warhol if Julian Assange dies in prison, artist claims | UK News

An artist has defended plans to destroy masterpieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and Andy Warhol with acid if Julian Assange dies in prison.

Andrei Molodkin says he has gathered 16 works of art – which he estimates are collectively worth more than $45m (£42.77m) – in a 29-tonne safe with an “extremely corrosive” substance.

Inside the vault are boxes containing the art and a pneumatic pump connecting two white barrels – one with acid powder and the other with an accelerator that could cause a chemical reaction strong enough to turn the safe’s contents to debris, Molodkin claims.

Famous works of art will be destroyed by acid in a safe if Julian Assange dies in prison, artist Andrei Molodkin says. Pics: AP/The Foundry Studio
Julian Assange in 2017 – and the safe purported to contain the art that will be destroyed if he dies in prison. Pics: AP/The Foundry Studio

The project – called “Dead Man’s Switch” – is being backed by Assange’s wife Stella, whose husband is awaiting his final appeal against being extradited to the US, where he faces charges under the Espionage Act.

The Wikileaks founder is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The 52-year-old denies any wrongdoing.

He has been held in London’s Belmarsh prison for almost five years and will have his final appeal heard at the High Court in London on February 20 and 21.

Assange’s supporters say he faces 175 years in prison if he is extradited. His lawyer claims the Australian’s life “is at risk” if the appeal fails.

Stella Assange, the wife of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Pic: PA
Stella Assange is supporting Andrei Molodkin’s ‘Dead Man’s Switch’ project. Pic: PA

Molodkin told Sky News: “In our catastrophic time – when we have so many wars – to destroy art is much more taboo than to destroy the life of a person.

“Since Julian Assange has been in prison… freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of information has started to be more and more repressed. I have this feeling very strongly now.”

The Russian dissident has refused to reveal which pieces of art are inside the safe but says it includes works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jannis Kounellis, Robert Rauschenberg, Sarah Lucas, Santiago Sierra, Jake Chapman, and Molodkin himself, among others.

The safe includes acid that can be triggered to destroy the artwork, Andrei Molodkin says. Pic: Andrei Molodkin/The Foundry Studio
The works of art are being contained in boxes, the artist says. Pic: Andrei Molodkin/The Foundry Studio

“I believe if something happened and we erased some masterpiece, it will be erased from history – nobody will know which kind of piece it was,” he says.

“We have all the documentation and we photographed all of them.”

The safe will be locked on Friday and it is being kept at Molodkin’s studio in the south of France, the artist says, but he plans for it to be moved to a museum.

Explaining how the “Dead Man’s Switch” works, he says a 24-hour countdown timer must be reset before it reaches zero to prevent the corrosive material from being released.

Andrei Molodkin's sketches for the project. Pic: Andrei Molodkin/The Foundry Studio
Molodkin’s sketches for the Dead Man’s Switch project. Pic: Andrei Molodkin/The Foundry Studio

He says this will be done by “someone close” to Assange confirming he is still alive in prison each day – which will mean the timer can be reactivated.

If Assange is released from prison, the works of art will be returned to their owners, Molodkin adds.

He admits “many collectors are really scared” about the acid going off accidentally but insists the work has been done “very professionally”.

Molodkin says he would feel “no emotion” if the art was destroyed because “freedom is much more important”.

Artist Andrei Molodkin
Artist Andrei Molodkin

Giampaolo Abbondio, who owns an art gallery in Milan, says he has provided the Picasso artwork for the safe and has signed a non-disclosure agreement preventing him from revealing which one.

He said his first response when he was asked to take part was: “No way”, but he was convinced by Molodkin, who he has known since 2008.

“It got me round to the idea that it’s more relevant for the world to have one Assange than an extra Picasso, so I decided to accept,” Mr Abbondio told Sky News.

“Let’s say I’m an optimist and I’ve lent it. If Assange goes free, I can have it back.

“Picasso can vary from 10,000 to 100 million but I don’t think it’s the number of zeros that makes it more relevant when we’re talking about a human life.”

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June 2022: Why is Assange wanted by US?

Artist Franko B says he has provided one of the works which will be kept in the safe.

“It’s a beautiful piece… it’s one of my best pieces,” he told Sky News.

“I thought it was important that I committed something I care about. I didn’t donate something that I found in the corner of my studio. I donated a piece of work that is very dear to me that talks about freedom, censorship.

“It’s important. It’s a small gesture compared to what Assange did and what he’s going through.”

Who is controversial artist Andrei Molodkin?

Andrei Molodkin made headlines last year after selling blood-soaked copies of Prince Harry’s memoir.

The artist had previously projected a sculpture filled with the blood of Afghans on to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Both stunts were in protest over Harry’s remarks in his book about his number of kills in Afghanistan.

Previously, to coincide with the World Cup in Qatar, Molodkin unveiled a replica of the World Cup trophy that slowly filled with crude oil. It had a symbolic price of $150m – a figure that matched the amount of money allegedly spent on bribes and kickbacks to FIFA officials.

Molodkin also presented a sculpture of the White House that reportedly contained the radioactive blood of Nagasaki-born men to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.

In 2022, Molodkin showcased a glass portrait of Vladimir Putin which was filled with the blood of Ukrainian soldiers. An image of the artwork was said to have been live-streamed near Moscow’s Red Square as Mr Putin oversaw Russia’s Victory Day parade.

Back in 2013, Molodkin opened an exhibition called Catholic Blood that featured an installation where he pumped blood donated solely by Catholics around his replica of the Rose Window at Westminster Abbey, which he saw as a Protestant symbol.

Read more:
Fugitive or hero? Timeline of Assange’s legal battle
Vivienne Westwood’s family ‘disappointed’ Assange denied permission to attend funeral
Who are the US intelligence leakers?

Mrs Assange, who has two children with her husband, told Sky News: “Which is the greater taboo – destroying art or destroying human life?

“Dead Man’s Switch is a work of art. Julian’s political imprisonment is an act of real terrorism against democracy.

“The true targets here are not just Julian Assange but the public’s right to know, and the future of being able to hold power accountable.

“If democracy wins, the art will be preserved – as will Julian’s life.”

Assange has been held at Belmarsh prison since his arrest in April 2019 after leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had claimed political asylum in June 2012.

The UK government approved Assange’s extradition to the US in June 2022.

Julian Assange to apply for prison leave to attend Vivienne Westwood’s funeral, says wife | World News

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to request leave from prison to attend the funeral of his friend Dame Vivienne Westwood, according to his wife.

Dame Vivienne, known as the Godmother of Punk, died aged 81 on Thursday surrounded by her family in south London, prompting Mr Assange to search for a way to say goodbye, despite being behind bars in London’s Belmarsh prison as he fights extradition to the US.

His wife Stella Assange told Australia’s Nine Media of the funeral: “Julian’s going to put in a request to be able to attend.”

Mr Assange and Dame Vivienne had been friends for more than a decade, with the designer a vocal supporter throughout his time in the Ecuadorian embassy and prison.

FILE - Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood sits suspended in a giant bird cage in protest against the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S., outside the Old Bailey court, in London on July 21, 2020. Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, at 81. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
Vivienne Westwood outside the Old Bailey, ahead of Julian Assange’s court battle against extradition to the US. Pic: AP

She even dressed as a canary and suspended herself inside a giant birdcage outside The Old Bailey in July 2020 to protest his potential extradition.

The designer’s death prompted the WikiLeaks founder to issue his first statement since being imprisoned in 2019.

Released by Mrs Assange, it said: “Vivienne was a Dame and a pillar of the anti-establishment. Bold, creative, thoughtful and a good friend. The best of Britain. She will be missed terribly by me and many others.”

Mrs Assange wore a dress designed by Dame Vivienne and her husband Andreas Kronthaler when she married the 51-year-old at the prison in a small ceremony in March.

Stella Moris, partner of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrives at HMP Belmarsh prison before her wedding to Assange, in London, Britain, March 23, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Stella Assange before her wedding to Julian, in March this year

Mrs Assange said following the death: “Vivienne was a rebel at heart. Julian and I loved her company.

“Her gift to us took our wedding to the next level, so there was a lot of attention, and she just had this incredible talent for visuals and for messaging.”

She added: “Our wonderful friend Vivienne Westwood has left us. A fierce campaigner and a true altruist, she fought to #FreeAssange and for humanity’s future.

“Vivienne, you remain an inspiration. Your greatness will live on.”

Eccentric creations

Dame Vivienne, who was born in Cheshire in 1941, is largely accepted as being responsible for bringing punk and new wave fashion into the mainstream with her eccentric creations.

Her designs were regularly worn by high-profile individuals including Dita Von Teese, who wore a purple Westwood wedding gown to marry Marilyn Manson, and Princess Eugenie, who wore three Westwood designs for various elements of the wedding of the then Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Details of her funeral are not yet known.