Andrei Molodkin Holds Art Hostage for Julian Assange’s Life

Andrei Molodkin Found a Way to Raise Awareness of Julian Assange's Case - He is Holding Hostage $45 Million Worth of Art.

Feb 15, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Andrei Molodkin
Dead Man’s Switch. Photo: © The Foundry Studio.


Andrei Molodkin found a way to raise awareness of Julian Assange’s case. Overall, he created a 32-ton safe room where he will hold hostage 16 master artworks worth $45 million. This includes works by Picasso, Rembrandt, and Warhol. They will all perish in a so-called “dead man’s switch” if Assange passes away while being held in custody, which is probable in the event of a conviction in the United States.


Andrei Molodkin Says Destroying Art Is Much More Taboo Than Destroying Life

Andrei Molodkin
Supporters of Julian Assange ride around Westminster landmarks on July 1, 2022 in London, England. Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images


The U.N. asked the U.K. last week not to deport Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, to the United States. The organization fears he might be kept in isolation for a while. Also, subjected to cruel, torture-like treatment and might receive a 175-year prison sentence. In order to raise awareness of the case, Molodkin stashed an intensely caustic acid mixture and a catalyst in the vault.


This combined can result in a chemical reaction that crushes the artworks hidden in the vault. There is a 24-hour timer attached to the switch that mixes the two. Also, somebody who knows Assange well enough to determine if he is still alive must routinely reset the timer. The artwork will vanish forever if the timer reaches zero. But, each piece of art will go back to the donor if Assange escapes alive.


julian assange wikileaks, Andrei Molodkin
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, holding up a newspaper indicating a leak of US military information about the war in Afghanistan (2001-21). Source: Radio Free Europe


“In our time, to destroy art is much more taboo than destroying the life of people”, said Molodkin. Everyone donated – gallerists, collectors, artists… The vault holds works by Jake Chapman, Sarah Lucas, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns. The works’ titles are still under wraps. Dead Man’s Switch, in Molodkin’s opinion, is a conceptual piece rather than a political protest piece. According to the artist, he wants to create an image of our day that combines elements of art history, a destructive aspect, and a person’s existence in the vein of “political minimalism”.

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Art and Freedom Are the Same Thing

WikiLeaks, Julian Assange
WikiLeaks, Julian Assange


Born in 1966, Molodkin considers that the need for freedom of expression is especially pressing. It’s because of the time he lived as a young man under the Soviet Union. He now worries that Assange gets treated unfairly, like a canary in a gold mine. “The more he is punished, it means in the future there will not be any more freedom. Art and freedom is the same thing. You can’t produce any culture without freedom or you are just a propaganda service”, he said.


When Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006, he published private information on the website. This includes materials disclosed in 2010 by American soldier and informant Chelsea Manning. The United States is looking for him because he violated the Espionage Act and has been detained at Belmarsh Prison in London for the past five years. In June 2022, the United Kingdom granted his extradition; however, he is currently pleading for permission to stay.


Free Julian Assange protest
Free Julian Assange protest. Archive


With Assange’s wife Stella’s agreement, Dead Man’s Switch emerged. It resides in the historic spa resort of La Raillère. “In our time of conflict and catastrophe, no big museum or commercial gallery accepts extreme or very political projects”, Molodkin said. “I believe this type of platform has to exist”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.