A Danish Museum Lent an Artist $84,000 to Reproduce an Old Work About Labor. Instead, He Pocketed It and Called It Conceptual Art

The museum said it will eventually want its money back, but the artist, Jens Haaning, has no plans to acquiesce.

Jens Haaning, Take the Money And Run (2021). Courtesy of the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art.

A Danish artist was given tens of thousands of dollars by a museum to reproduce an old sculpture. Instead, he pocketed the money and called it a new conceptual artwork.

Take the Money and Run is the name of the piece by artist Jens Haaning—as well as a rather straightforward description of it.

For its current exhibition, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in ​​Aalborg, Denmark, lent Haaning 534,000 kroner ($84,000). Per their written agreement, the artist would exhibit the banknotes themselves, effectively recreating a pair of artworks he made in 2007 and 2010 that represented the average annual incomes of an Austrian and a Dane, respectively. 

However, when the museum opened up the box containing Haaning’s piece, they found two empty frames. The banknotes were absent.

“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning told the Danish radio program P1 Morgen last week. “It’s not theft. It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”

Haaning explained that he conceived Take the Money and Run in response to the paltry remuneration offered by the museum for inclusion in the show. According to him, he would have had to pay 25,000 kroner ($3,900) himself to realize the two older artworks, and that to do so misses the point of the originals, which presented a quantitative snapshot of a moment in time. “Why should we show a work that is about Denmark…11 years ago, or one that is about Austria’s relationship with a bank 14 years ago?” he asked.

For him, it’s a provocation as much as anything else. “I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same. If they are sitting on some sh*t job and not getting money and are actually being asked to give money to go to work, then take the box and [run] off.”

The museum, for its part, is going along with the stunt—at least for now. Haaning’s empty frames are among the works on display in “Work it Out,” the venue’s ongoing show about the role of artists in the larger labor market. 

But come the exhibition’s end in January, the museum will want its money back, as the contract stipulates. But Haaning has no plans to return it.

“I absolutely want to give Jens the right [to say] that a new work has been created in its own right, which actually comments on the exhibition we have,” Lasse Andersson, the Kunsten’s director, told the same radio show. “But that is not the agreement we had.”

When asked if the museum would consider filing charges against the artist, a spokesperson told Artnet News, “Right now we wait and see. If the money is not returned on 16 January as agreed, we will of course take the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning complies with his contract.”

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