In 2021, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg in northern Denmark gave artist Jens Haaning 534,000 kroner (~$76,560 today) worth of banknotes to physically incorporate into two artworks. The artist is known for creating pieces decorated with currency. In this case, however, Haaning pocketed the cash and submitted two blank canvases to the museum instead, declaring that taking the money was part of his new series fittingly titled Take the Money and Run. Today, September 18, a Danish court ordered that Haaning must repay the institution.
The Kunsten Museum wanted Haaning to recreate two 2007 and 2010 works in which he arranged banknotes on canvases to represent the average income of people in Denmark and Austria. The museum gave Haaning the average income of a Danish person in cash — 534,000 kroner — to make a similar new work. Haaning was not supposed to keep any of that money; his compensation for the commission was 10,000 kroner (~$1,600 in 2021) plus expenses.
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“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning told radio program P1 Morgen. “I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same.”
The museum placed the two blank canvases in an exhibition titled Work it Out, which examined changing ideas about labor. Museum Director Lasse Andersson even told Hyperallergic back in 2021 that although Haaning’s final product was not what was agreed upon, “we got new and interesting art.” Andersson also said that the museum would “take the necessary steps” to ensure the artist complied with his contract if he did not return the money by January 16, 2022.
But Haaning disagreed. “This is only a piece of art if I don’t return the money,” he told the New York Times in 2021. Haaning has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.
Haaning did not return the cash, and as promised, the museum filed a claim demanding that he pay it back. Haaning filed for an acquittal and for the museum to pay him 550,000 kroner (~$50,800) in compensation for the two blank canvases, a request that was denied. Haaning now has four weeks to appeal the court’s decision. For now, he’ll be handing the museum 492,549 kroner (~$70,650) — the original cash sum minus Haaning’s commission and viewing fee.