A Court Has Ordered an Artist to Repay a Danish Museum $72,000 for Submitting Two Empty Frames for a Commission

Jens Haaning claimed that the empty frames were a new "conceptual" artwork protesting poor pay.

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

A Copenhagen court has ordered a Danish artist to repay the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art nearly $72,000 after he delivered two empty frames in lieu of a commissioned artwork in 2021, claiming that the frames were a new conceptual piece, provocatively titled Take the Money and Run.

The museum had loaned the artist, Jens Haaning, 534,000 krone ($84,000) to recreate a 2007 sculpture, in the form of banknotes, titled An Average Danish Annual Income, which represented the salary using krone bills affixed to a canvas. A 2010 version used euros to represent a typical Austrian income.

The Danish museum used money from its reserves to commission Haaning, and it wasn’t until the works were being unpacked that staff realized they had been sent two empty frames instead. The museum displayed the works in the exhibition for which they were intended, but when the artist refused to repay the borrowed money after the show was taken down, as his contract had stipulated, it decided to take legal action.

After a lengthy legal battle, the court ruled on Monday that Haaning must refund the museum 492,549 kroner ($71,000), the sum that he had been given minus the artist’s fee and cost of mounting, within two weeks.

“It has been good for my work, but it also puts me in an unmanageable situation where I don’t really know what to do,” Haaning told the Danish news outlet dr.dk about the judgement, adding that he has no plans to appeal.

“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning told the Danish radio program P1 Morgen in 2021. “It’s not theft. It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.” He also claimed that the conceptual trick was a protest against the artist’s fee that he was offered, which he claimed was insufficient and would require him to spend 25,000 kroner ($3,900) of his own money.

“We are not a wealthy museum,” the museum’s director, Lasse 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 has declined to comment on the judgement since there is a four-week period in which it could still be appealed.

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