Don’t send Julian Assange to the United States. That would be a crime – destroying a few Picassos and Warhols is not

Picasso's last masterpiece: 'Les Demoiselles d' Avignon,' painted in 1907. The Spaniard did not die until 1973 and produced over 100,000 works in his long career (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)


A Russian artist, who in the historic way of Russian artists manages to live in Paris, is threatening to destroy pictures by Picasso and Warhol if Julian Assange dies in prison.

Assange is the Australian journalist who has been locked up for five years in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison. He is awaiting a final decision on his appeal against being extradited to the United States. The States want to prosecute him under the Espionage Act.

The artist, Andrei Molodkin, is someone you have not heard of, but he is getting his headlines now because he claims to have sealed up 16 “masterpieces” (his word) worth €42m in a safe in France. He says he will destroy the pictures with acid if Assange dies in prison.

Molodkin wants us to be shocked by this possibility.

Sorry, Molodkin, shock not happening for me.

I want to see Assange freed from Belmarsh. I want him safe from any threat to send him to the poisonous American judicial system.

All Assange did was commit journalism in 2010. He disclosed secret documents and embarrassed Washington politicians involved in the Iraq and Afghan wars. He denies any wrongdoing.

On the other hand, the thought of a stack of Picassos and Warhols fizzling up in acid in response to his death – or indeed in response to anything else – sounds good to me.

Molodkin has left us with this awkward choice.

According to Picasso’s family, when the artist died in 1973 the pictures and sculptures he left behind numbered 100,000.

For comparison, the number of works left behind by the 17th century Dutch artist Vermeer number no more than 37. Pictures attributed to Giorgione, the brilliant and mysterious Venetian Renaissance painter, number six.

For both painters, the word “masterpiece” is precise in describing their work.

Over at the Picasso factory, the words “churn them out, sell them high” are precise.

After Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (you will know the picture, five nudes, three of them with with African masks instead of faces, plus a fruit bowl) in 1907, nothing else he did in the rest of his 66 years was overly important.

Whatever Picasso picture Molodkin has in his safe, pouring acid over it will amount to not much.

As for the Warhols, I have a certain admiration for Warhol because he knew what he was doing.

He was manufacturing easy to like, fashionable 1960s images for people with money, flawed private education and a desire to be a la mode.

How do you not like Marilyn Monroe in a selection of loud paint colours?   And there is the Queen, plus Elizabeth Taylor. What colour would you like yours in? They look good, too, printed on duvet covers.

Churn them out, sell them high.

Dissolve them or burn them, it doesn’t matter.

I should mention that pictures by Picasso and Warhol are not the only pictures in Molodkin’s safe.

He says he has works by Jasper Johns (out of abstract expressionism into painting flags and targets, to which one says, why?) and Robert Rauschenberg (neo-Dadaism, if you want it).

You will have heard of them if you follow the present fashion for mid-20th century works of art.

There are also works by Jannis Kounellis, Sarah Lucas, Santiago Sierra, and Jake Chapman. Go Wiki them if you imagine you are interested, I can’t be bothered to tell you about them.

The odd picture out in the safe, though, is what Molodkin claims is a Rembrandt. Talk about living in a down-market neighbourhood, you have to wonder who actually owns the picture and if he is happy to see it acid burned. One must wonder.

All the while, with these “masterpieces” in a safe in France, Julian Assange is in a cell in Belmarsh.

The High Court holds a hearing on his extradition this week. If the court says the Americans can take him, Assange will be on a flight out of Britain within hours.

Britain will be shamed. The journalist Assange will face up to 175 years in prison for telling the truth.

Forget the phony masterpieces. What do we have to pour acid over to stop it?