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Money For Nothing: Artist Ordered To Pay For Stunt

September 20, 2023
blank canvases

The blank canvases of Take The Money and Run (Photo courtesy of Mette Kirstine Goddiksen and the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art)

Nearly two years ago, the Danish conceptual artist Jens Haaning made headlines as the Kunsten Museum in Aalborg unveiled his newest works: two blank canvases. It was reported at the time that he originally promised to recreate one of his earlier works, for which the museum gave him 534,000 Danish kroner (or $84,000). However, they only got the blank canvases, which Haaning called Take the Money and Run. But now the museum is having the last laugh, as a court just ordered Haaning to pay everything back.

Originally, the Kunsten Museum asked Haaning to recreate one of his earlier works where he attached banknotes to two differently-sized canvases as a commentary on income disparity between Denmark and other European countries, in this case Austria. The larger canvas contained several hundred Danish krone banknotes, adding up to about 278,500 kroner (or about $49,568 in 2010). The smaller canvas, representing Austria, included Euro notes and a couple of coins, adding up to about €25,700 (or $35,209 in 2007 at the time of its creation). It was meant to be a commentary on how money is often an abstract indicator of a person’s or, in this case, a whole nation’s worth. That is until you lay it all out in physical form. The museum provided the kroner in cash for use in the installation. However, Haaning must have been listening to too much Steve Miller Band that day and decided to take some ill-suited advice. The museum received the two canvases, but they were completely blank, not a banknote in sight.

The museum administration tried to play it off, with the museum director Lasse Andersson referring to the stunt as “a humorous comment” critiquing the concept of being paid in exchange for a skill. Haaning defended himself on Danish radio, saying that Take the Money and Run is a piece of concept art and, therefore, not theft. If he returned the money, the work would no longer be art. “The work is that I have taken their money”. However, in the end, the museum demanded the money back. After Haaning refused, the museum sued him for breach of contract. This past Monday, September 18th, a court ordered Haaning to pay a little more than 492,000 kroner (or $70,496); the original amount with the artist’s and viewing fees taken out, as the museum had exhibited the canvases despite the stunt. However, the artist was also ordered to pay 78,500 kroner (or $11,248) in court fees.