A museum loaned an artist $84,000 to make art. He turned in empty canvases and titled the work 'Take the Money and Run.'
- A Danish conceptual artist pocketed $84,000 loaned to him by a gallery to re-make an artwork.
- Instead of using the cash as agreed, he sent empty frames titled "Take the Money and Run."
- He will be in breach of contract if he does not return the money, the museum director told Insider.
A Danish conceptual artist pocketed $84,000 loaned to him by a museum to make artworks, handing in blank canvases titled "Take the Money and Run."
The agreement was for Jens Haaning to re-make versions of two earlier works in the Kunsten museum in Aalborg,
The originals were made of cash on display in Danish krone and euro banknotes. They were displayed in a frame to represent the average annual income of Danish and Austrian citizens, with a combined value of around $84,000.
(Insider wasn't able to locate the precise breakdown or sources for those figures.)
Lasse Andersson, director of the Kunsten museum in Aalborg, Denmark where the work was commissioned, told Insider that artist Jens Haaning could be in breach of contract if he does not return the money, which was material for the
Haaning instead sent over two empty frames, telling the museum in an email that he had decided to make a new artwork.
That email is now displayed along with the empty canvases in the group exhibition "Work It Out," which opened on September 23.
The agreement had been that Haaning would return the money on January 16, 2022, Andersson told Insider. But Haaning told CNN that he has no intention of returning it.
He told The Guardian that it was a protest against low pay.
According to the paper, the museum gave him a fee of about $3,900 on top of the cash to feature in the artwork. He told CNN that the fee would still leave him out of pocket.
"The work is that I have taken their money," The Guardian reported Haaning telling Danish radio. "It's not theft. It is breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work."
Andersson told CNN that the museum prides itself on paying reasonable artist fees.
He told Insider he was prepared to take legal action to retrieve the money if Haaning really does keep it, but was not particularly shocked.
"I'm difficult to shock," he said, adding: "When I phoned Jens Thursday evening last week, I said that he shocked my curatorial staff and he made me laugh."
Andersson may be sanguine, but he said his curators were deeply upset - and the work has garnered international headlines. He said the museum is "not wealthy" and that he takes any misuse of public and private money seriously.
"There have been a lot of people saying that I'm a naive director and it's a misuse of public and private money," he said.
Despite the disruption to their agreement, he defended the work artistically, saying: "We need the uncontrolled and the unforeseen and the unknown to re-establish ourselves as human beings in relation to society."
He noted that Haaning's stunt has raised a huge discussion, but compared the sums involved to the scandal of massive Chinese property company Evergrande, which is currently seeking a government bailout for its more than $300 billion of debt.
Haaning has exhibited extensively, including at major biennials such as ones held in Gwangju in South Korea, Istanbul in Turkey, and Kassel in Germany.
Asked if he will ever work with Haaning again, Andersson said: "If he returns the money."
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