ST. PETERSBURG, August 29 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian artist who painted a portrait of the country’s president and prime minister in women’s underwear, a work that was confiscated by police this week, said Thursday that he had fled to France.
On Monday, police seized Konstantin Altunin’s satirical painting, which depicts President Vladimir Putin in a pink-and-white nightgown touching the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is wearing nothing but a pushup bra and panties. The portrait was displayed at the Museum of Authority’s “Rulers” exhibition, which opened in St. Petersburg earlier this month and was closed by police on Tuesday.
Police also confiscated three other works by Altunin – a rainbow-colored portrait of St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who authored legislation banning promotion of homosexuality to minors, as well as a painting named “Erotic Dreams of Lawmaker [Yelena] Mizulina” and a black-and-white sketch of Moscow Patriarch Kirill showing off prison tattoos with skulls and busts of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.
Altunin told RIA Novosti that he had applied for asylum in Paris and already received the list of documents he would have to submit to immigration authorities.
Police said Tuesday that Altunin’s paintings were “withdrawn” from the museum following a complaint by lawmaker Milonov because the works might “violate existing legislation.” The police did not say which laws might have been broken, although Russia does have a law against “insulting representatives of authority.”
Altunin ironically compared the confiscation to a mafia operation and urged Putin to order the return of his works. “I demand the return of my paintings, which were stolen from the Museum of Authority by an organized criminal group led by lawmaker Milonov,” he said in an open letter posted on the museum’s VKontakte social network page.
Lawmaker Milonov authored legislation making “the promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors” in St. Petersburg punishable with fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($15,000). The law was adopted in March 2012 and was a precursor to similar federal legislation that Putin signed in June.
Mizulina, a lawmaker with the A Just Russia party, lobbied for a law that levies fines for dissemination of “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. The law has attracted international condemnation, with some gay activists in response calling for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The confiscation of Altunin’s paintings is not the first time that Russian artists poking fun at the authorities have incurred their wrath.
Marat Guelman, a founder of a controversial state-run museum in the city of Perm, said in June that he was fired from his position as the museum's head after opening an art exhibition that ridiculed the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Putin’s pet project.
Two members of the Pussy Riot female punk rock band were sentenced last August to two years in jail for their unsanctioned punk-prayer protest against Putin at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Several criminal investigations have been opened against artist Artyom Loskutov for allegedly inciting religious hatred by putting Orthodox-style icons on T-shirts and billboards that portrayed Pussy Riot members as the Holy Mary and Christian saints.