Danish artist takes $84,000 from a museum and calls it conceptual art

Jens Haaning, who tackles issues of power and communication, says it's a statement about artistic compensation

The name of the artwork says it all: Take the Money and Run.

Danish artist Jens Haaning was lent 534,000 Danish krone ($84,000) by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark to replicate two of his older works – framed banknotes that represented the annual incomes of an Austrian and a Dane. However, instead of making the artworks, the artist shipped two empty frames to the museum. The cash was nowhere to be found.

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

Haaning also renamed the artwork, transforming the act into a statement about artistic compensation.

The artist, who lives and works in Copenhagen, was initially invited to produce a piece for the museum’s exhibition Work It Out, which looks at the role of people in the labour market and the future of working life. The group show, which opened last Friday, features the works of 22 artists.

As part of an agreement with the museum, the artist was meant to recreate his mixed media artworks An Average Austrian Year Income from 2007 and An Average Danish Annual Income from 2010.

According to ArtNet, Haaning came up with Take the Money and Run as a way to highlight the meagre payment that the museum offered for his participation in the exhibition. He would have to pay $3,900 to reproduce his previous works, he said.

In addition, the museum’s idea of replicating the works seemed out of date and misunderstands the intention of the original pieces, he said. “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?”

Haaning’s previous works have tackled the issues of power and communication. He has investigated the concept of value within economic systems and has also delved into the conditions of migrant workers in Europe.

Take the Money and Run remains part of the Work It Out exhibition, which runs until January. The museum has stated that it expects Haaning to fulfill the terms of the contract and return the money when the show is over. At the moment, the artist has no intention to comply.

Updated: September 30th 2021, 9:10 AM