Artist Andrei Molodkin threatens to destroy masterpieces with acid

“I’m not trying to destroy art, and I don’t think I’ll have to” Russian artist Andrei Molodkin told the Guardian, after announcing his intention to destroy several works of art with acid if Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, died in prison. Molodkin did not specify which works they are but says he has collected sixteen, including works by Picasso, Rembrandt and Andy Warhol, and estimates their total value at more than $45 million. He threatens to place them on Friday February 23 in a safe containing a corrosive substance.

Andrei Molodkin thus intends to question the reason why “destroying people’s lives means nothing, but destroying art is a huge taboo in the world”. According to him, it is not about activism but an artistic project that he calls “Dead Man’s Switch” and which he sees as a collaborative work. Molodkin reportedly spent six months trying to persuade collectors and artists to donate their works. Artists like Andres Serrano, Franko B, Santiago Sierra and Sarah Lucas donated their own works for the project. The owner of the Milan gallery Giampaolo Abbondio confirmed to the Sky News television channel that he had given a work by Picasso to Molodkin.

The artworks will be placed in plywood crates next to a pneumatic pump that connects two barrels, one containing acid powder and the other an accelerator capable of triggering a chemical reaction strong enough to destroy the entire contents of the safe in two hours. This chest is currently in Molodkin’s studio in the south of France, but the artist would like to transfer it to a museum. A 24-hour countdown will begin daily and can only be reset if someone close to Julian Assange confirms each day that the latter is still alive.

For Andrei Molodkin, the imprisonment of Julian Assange – accused of having disclosed classified American military and diplomatic documents – is scandalous. Molodkin says he met his wife Stella Assange and members of WikiLeaks in March 2023, at a London exhibition organized by the art association a/political. Stella Assange confirmed to the New Yorker that her husband knows and approves of the project, which she herself describes as “protective measure, a sort of human shield but in the form of art”.

Julien Assange has been imprisoned on remand in Belmarsh, south-east London, for almost five years. He will appear in court on February 20 and 21 to try to oppose his extradition to the United States, where he risks up to 175 years in prison.

Andrei Molodkin is more or less known for his socially conscious works of art, in which he frequently incorporates human blood, crude oil and steel. In 2022, he created a large portrait of Vladimir Putin using blood donated by his Ukrainian friends. In 2023, it is Prince Harry’s memoir which this time he sprays with blood from Afghan donors, to protest against the way in which the work describes the murder of Taliban fighters. An activism that recalls the “performance” of Piotr Pavlenski sentenced to 6 months in prison, subject to change, last October in the Griveaux affair.

His project “Dead Man’s Switch” takes place in a context where artistic vandalism for the benefit of a cause is increasingly frequent. Recently, activists from the Food Response movement doused the Mona Lisa and then Monet’s Le Printemps with soup, fortunately protected by glass.

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