Artist ordered to pay back $76,000 to museum after presenting blank canvases titled “Take the Money and Run” | Albiseyler

Artist ordered to pay back $76,000 to museum after presenting blank canvases titled "Take the Money and Run"


Jens Haaning was supposed to create works of art for 530,000 Danish crowns ($76,000) lent to him by the museum, but instead he took the money and ran away in the name of art. Now, after nearly two years of litigation, a Copenhagen court ruled on Monday that the artist must return almost all of the cash.

In 2021, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark’s Jutland region, lent Haaning money to create updated versions of two earlier works—frames filled with banknotes depicting the average annual salaries of an Austrian and a Dane—for an exhibition on the future of work. Instead, the artist sent two empty frames to the museum, titled “Take the Money and Run”, saying that he had created new, “better” pieces to match the theme of the exhibition.

The conceptual artist said the work was a comment on low wages and that his breach of contract was part of the work.

Jens Ziehe/Courtesy Sabsay Gallery

The new pieces were meant to be updated versions of the artwork including the “Average Austrian Annual Income, 2007” pictured here.

He told CNN at the time: “From my artistic point of view, I saw that I could create a much better work for them than they could imagine. He added: “I don’t see that I stole the money… I created a work of art that is maybe 10 or 100 times better than what we planned. What’s the problem?”

Haaning said the new artwork challenged people to think about social structures and institutions such as religion and marriage. “And if need be… take the money and run,” he added.

Despite his protests, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art exhibited Haaning’s blank canvases, along with a printout of an email in which he explained his actions.

Haaning’s blank canvases are part of a genre of controversial works that question the value of art itself – including Maurizio Cattelan sticking a banana to a wall and Banksy’s shredding of a painting at auction. In 1958, conceptual artist Yves Klein exposed an empty room to thousands of people. But regardless of the intent of his works, Copenhagen City Court ruled against Haaning, saying he was “obliged” to return the loaned money, minus 40,000 kroner ($5,730) in artist and display fees.

The court said that “Take the Money and Run” was “inadequate” compared to what was outlined in his contract with the Kunsten Museum because he had agreed to deliver two different pieces. The ruling also rejected a counterclaim filed by Haaning, who claimed the museum had infringed the work’s copyright. Artist in the meantime, compensation for the costs associated with the court proceedings was imposed.

In an emailed statement to CNN after Monday’s ruling, Kunsten director Lasse Andersson said the museum would wait to see if Haaning appeals the decision before commenting. The artist did not respond to a request for comment.

The museum displayed Haaning’s new artwork as part of its “Work it Out” exhibition, which ran from September 2021 to January 2022.

At the time, Andersson told CNN that the job he raised key questions: “Do we have to work for money or can we take it?” he asked. “Why do we go to work? All these kinds of things make us start thinking about the cultural mores of the society we are a part of. And then it also applies to the question: Are artists paid enough for what they do?

John Peter Photography/Alamy

Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark.

Andersson also said the museum has upheld its side of the deal and is known for honoring contracts and paying artists reasonable fees.

Meanwhile, Haaning claimed that the 10,000 crowns ($1,571) the museum paid for his work and to cover expenses such as framing and delivery would have left him out of pocket for studio costs and staff salaries.

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