(CBS News) A controversial exhibit at a St. Petersburg art gallery has Russia's conservative government once again facing off with political satirists, over the hot-button issue of gay rights. Russian police seized four paintings satirizing the country's rulers from the Museum of Power early this week, including a portrait of Russian President Putin in a pink slip, shown brushing the hair of Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, who is clad in women's underwear.
The paintings have been on display for two weeks, at a time when the Russian government is pushing for a law banning what they deem to be gay propaganda.
It would be hard to think of two hotter buttons to push with Vladimir Putin -- depicting him as gay and mocking his authority. It's just a satirical picture in a St Petersburg art gallery... or maybe it's the latest skirmish between the Russian government and the country's beleaguered gay community. You choose.
Gallery owner Alexander Donksoy insists the seizure was illegal and noted that the police did not even give him a receipt for petty cash seized from the gallery, which remains shut down.
Russia experts, including James Nixey of London's Chatham House think tank, say the move is not surprising given the state of domestic affairs and ongoing issues pertaining to Russia's beleaguered gay community.
"This is a government that is more brittle, more fragile than it has been in quite some while," Nixey told CBS News' Mark Phillips, explaining that, "Ultimately, President Putin doesn't like criticism."
Putin is prone to public -- and often shirtless -- outings depicting himself as a hunter and outsdoorman, but his he-man hobbies have led to some alternative interpretations.
"It has to be said -- and this is mentioned in many papers recently -- [there are] certain homoerotic themes to some of the publicity stunts President Putin has done in recent times as well," James Nixey said, citing "the horseback riding, the diving ... anything with his naked torso on it."
The exhibit is shut down however no charges have been filed against the gallery, despite laws in Russia banning so-called gay propaganda and prohibiting insulting authorities.