A Danish artist is being asked to return money he was given to complete an art installation after he submitted two blank canvases as the finished project.
The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Denmark lent artist Jens Haaning 532,549 Dutch krone, equivalent to about $76,400, so he could recreate two earlier pieces that physically depicted the average income of a Danish citizen versus an Austrian citizen, per NPR.
But rather than affixing the money to the canvases, Haaning pocketed the cash and turned in blank canvases he dubbed “Take the Money And Run.”
The museum initially accepted the canvases and displayed them as part of its “Work It Out” show in 2021, expecting the artist to return the money afterward. But he refused, which resulted in a lengthy court battle.
Haaning has now been ordered to return the money plus $11,000 in legal fees. The ruling deducted roughly $5,700 from the amount owed to reflect Haaning’s artist’s fee and viewing fee because the exhibit did proceed with his two blank canvases included.
Museum director Lasse Andersson, at first, was amused by the stunt. “Jens is known for his conceptual and activistic art with a humoristic touch. And he gave us that – but also a bit of a wake up call as everyone now wonders where did the money go,” he told CBS News in 2021.
But he also warned the artist that they did need the money back.
“We are not a wealthy museum,” Andersson told The Guardian in 2021. “We have to think carefully about how we spend our funds, and we don’t spend more than we can afford.”
The museum had extracted the funds from a building maintenance fund to give to Haaning. “I believe he will give it back to us. He is a well-regarded artist. But if we don’t get it back, we will have to file charges against the artist,” the director said at the time. Andersson said the museum’s contract with Haaning required him to return the money in January 2022, which he failed to do.
According to Haaning’s press release in 2021, “the idea behind [it] was to show how salaries can be used to measure the value of work and to show national differences within the European Union.” The artist changed the title to “Take the Money and Run” as a means of addressing “artists’ rights and their working conditions in order to establish more equitable norms within the art industry.”
“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning told the national Danish broadcaster DR in September 2021. “It’s not theft. It is breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”
“I encourage other people who have working conditions as miserable as mine to do the same. If they’re sitting in some sh**y job and not getting paid, and are actually being asked to pay money to go to work, then grab what you can and beat it,” he added.