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Julian Assange, master of the (dark) arts

17 August 2017

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The Rake has learnt a lot from Raffi Khatchadourian’s profile of Julian Assange in the current issue of the New Yorker. For one thing, Knightsbridge’s least outgoing resident has quite the talent for an artistic simile. ‘It’s like looking at a very complex Hieronymus Bosch painting from a distance,’ he told Khatchadourian of his initial reaction to receiving a cache of 20,000 emails leaked from the Democratic National Committee last year. ‘You have to get close and interact with it, then you start to get a feel.’

Khatchadourian recounts an evening in which the Australian artist George Gittoes turned up at the Ecuadorian embassy to discuss a large diptych he was painting of his compatriot. When Gittoes’s wife, Rose, who was making a documentary about the paintings, suggested that the artist and his subject be filmed in conversation in front of the works, the reaction was hostile.

‘There cannot be an image of Julian Assange looking at himself in a painting,’ Assange said. ‘That image is much worse for me than the painting is positive. Understand?’

It’s not as if this is the first time Assange has taken an interest in art. Earlier this year, he enthusiastically tweeted that ‘modern art’ was created as a CIA ‘cultural weapon to attract the “educated”’, linking to an article about the agency’s promotion of Abstract Expressionism during the Cold War. Shame he couldn’t make the Royal Academy show last year, really.

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