Painting of Putin in a negligee seized by Russian police; artist flees the country

Vladimir Putin doesn’t mind posing for shirtless photos -- but paint the Russian president in drag, and you’ve apparently gone too far.

Russian police seized a portrait depicting Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wearing women’s lingerie from the Museum of Power in St. Petersburg and shut the gallery down. According to the Associated Press, the artist, Konstantin Altunin, has fled the country. Police also confiscated several more of Altunin’s “satirical portraits,” including one of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church with tattoos and another of the anti-gay legislator Vitaly Milonov with a rainbow flag. You can see all of the confiscated images here.

This type of seizure isn’t exactly unheard-of in Russia. The country has a law against insulting authorities, punishable by a one-year prison term, and the Ministry of Culture shut down a high-profile art exhibit about the “darker side of the Sochi Olympics” just this June. The Museum of Power, which the Guardian describes as “two rooms of a flat,” also hasn’t shied away from controversy: It bills itself as “the only museum dedicated to the people who govern us” and promises that the Altunin exhibit will “shock” -- which it apparently did.

Neither the gallery nor Altunin is going down quietly. On its VK page (the Russian equivalent of Facebook), the Museum of Power calls the seizure illegal and complains that police stole cash and promotional materials in addition to the paintings. The gallery has also asked followers to submit photos and videos of the exhibits to help establish in court which pieces of art were taken.

Altunin has reportedly fled to France to avoid arrest. The 43-year-old painter first dashed off a letter to the delegates of the G-20 summit, set to take place in St. Petersburg next month. The letter asks delegates to discuss censorship with Putin and condemn the government’s action against artists, which isn’t likely -- especially since Altunin painted “satirical portraits” of them, as well. (“Hopefully you will not take offense,” he writes on the Museum of Power’s VK page.)

Altunin, who has exhibited since 2000, has also painted other portraits of Putin in women’s underwear and former Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing another man. This video, published four days ago, shows him covering a bust of Lenin with rainbow paint.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (tinyletter.com/cdewey)

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Max Fisher · August 28, 2013