Artist ordered to pay museum back ,000 after submitting 2 blank canvases under the title ‘Take the Money and Run’
Artist ordered to pay museum back ,000 after submitting 2 blank canvases under the title ‘Take the Money and Run’

An artist has lost his lengthy battle with a Danish museum after submitting two blank canvases and taking off with the loaned cash that was meant to be displayed inside the artworks.

Danish artist Jens Haaning was ordered by a Copenhagen court to pay the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art 500,000 Danish kroner (around $76,500) after his audacious stunt set off a nearly two-year legal fight, media outlets including the BBC and NPR reported.

The pieces were based on two artworks Haaning originally debuted in 2007 and 2010—called An average Austrian annual income and An average Danish annual income, respectively—which were a comment on the salary of the average Danish and Austrian workers, and contained bank notes totaling those sums.

The museum in Aalborg had commissioned Haaning to recreate those artworks for its exhibit Work it Out, which asked visitors to question what they wanted from their careers, and were meant to have held a combined 534,000 kroner in cash for a 2021 exhibition.

Haaning had taken out a bank loan to create his original pieces, but on this occasion the museum offered to lend him the full amount of 534,000 kroner, The Art Newspaper reported in 2021.

But instead of receiving a recreation of the original works, the museum opened the artwork to find two blank canvases with a new collective name: Take the Money and Run.

Haaning told Danish outlet dr.dk that the new artwork was meant to highlight how people were underpaid for their work and encouraged checkout staff to take from the cash register and run in the same spirit.

The agreement in the contract was for the money to be returned to the museum when the exhibition ended, something Haaning made clear in advance wouldn’t be happening. Instead, the artist indeed took the money and ran. 

“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning told dr.dk prior to the contract’s end date of January 2022.

He told dr.dk that the piece in its original form would have left him down 25,000 kroner, inspiring his revolt.

Museum director Lasse Andersson told dr.dk Haaning was not entitled to keep the money despite its perceived artistic value, as the agreement only included a 10,000 kroner artist fee and 6,000 kroner for expenses.

“We are not a wealthy museum,” Andersson previously told the Guardian. “We have to think carefully about how we spend our funds, and we don’t spend more than we can afford.”

Haaning, though, argued that the museum had made much more than 500,000 kroner from the two-year publicity drive the piece had created, NordTV reported.

Indeed, Kunsten praises the submitted piece on its website, arguing it acts as “a critique of mechanisms within the art world, but also points to larger structures in our society.”

At the time, museum director Andersson admitted to seeing the funny side of the submission.

“He stirred up my curatorial staff and he also stirred me up a bit, but I also had a laugh because it was really humoristic,” Andersson told the BBC.

While the Copenhagen court eventually sided with the museum, it did subtract Haaning’s fee and the mounting cost from the sum. Still, the decision leaves the artist in a heap of debt.

“It has been good for my work, but it also puts me in an unmanageable situation where I don’t really know what to do,” he told dr.dk.

A representative for the museum didn’t immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

There is a long, tense history between the vision of artists designing a piece and the museum curating an exhibition.

One of the most recent examples is Banksy’s 2018 artwork Love is in the Bin. The enigmatic artist’s original piece, titled Girl With Balloon, originally sold for £1 million (around $1.2 million) under auction at London’s Sotheby’s.

What the buyer didn’t know was that Banksy’s portrait was set to self-destruct by being shredded through its own frame as soon as a winning bid was confirmed. However, the painting returned to auction in its new form and sold for an eye-watering £16 million.

Ryan Hogg

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