'Take the Money and Run' Artist Told to Bring Back the Money

Jens Haaning ordered to return money to museum after he produced blank canvases
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2021 2:30 AM CDT
Updated Sep 19, 2023 2:10 AM CDT
Artist Takes Museum's $84K, Produces 2 Blank Canvases
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / Olena Poliakevych)
UPDATE Sep 19, 2023 2:10 AM CDT

The Danish artist who took the money and ran—specifically, he took the money Denmark's Kunsten Museum of Modern Art gave him to reproduce two of his prior works, but instead of recreating them he simply gave the museum two blank canvases he called "Take the Money and Run"—has been ordered to run right back with said money. The museum took legal action against Jens Haaning after the exhibition, in which his blank canvases were displayed, when he declined to return the cash he was supposed to use in his artwork and then give back, the Guardian reports. The court ruled that Haaning could keep his artist's fee and viewing fee, the BBC reports.

Sep 29, 2021 2:30 AM CDT

When Denmark's Kunsten Museum of Modern Art gave Jens Haaning $84,000, it expected the artist to recreate two of his previous works. Instead, the museum says, Haaning gave it two blank canvases. "The curator received an email in which Jens Haaning wrote that he had made a new piece of art work and changed the work title into 'Take the Money and Run,'" the museum director tells CBS News. The $84,000 was meant for Haaning to place in the canvases to reproduce his 2010 piece "An Average Danish Annual Income" and his 2007 piece "An Average Austrian Annual Income," both of which used real money to illustrate the aforementioned average incomes. In addition to that, Haaning was compensated for the work, the museum says.

The contract stated Haaning was to return the $84,000 when the "Work It Out" exhibition, which opened Friday and is centered around the theme of the labor market, closes next year, and as such, the museum director notes Haaning hasn't actually breached the contract yet—and the museum will take action if he does. As for Haaning, a press release says the new work aims to question "artists' rights and their working conditions in order to establish more equitable norms within the art industry." He says he was paid just $3,900, which is what it would have cost him to produce the work.

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"In our society, work industries are valued differently," Haaning says in a statement. "The artwork is essentially about the working conditions of artists. It is a statement saying that we also have the responsibility of questioning the structures that we are part of. And if these structures are completely unreasonable, we must break with them." Haaning put it more succinctly in a radio interview cited by the Washington Post: "The work is that I have taken their money." According to Artnet, he has no plans to return it. The Guardian notes that the conceptual artist's work typically "focuses on power and inequality." For the museum's part, it says it is run on a "modest" budget and took the $84,000 from funds needed for building upkeep. (More strange stuff stories.)

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