In a surprising turn of events, Danish conceptual artist Jens Haaning has been directed to reimburse the Kunsten Museum in Aalborg with 532,000 kroner ($76,000) after delivering two entirely blank canvases as part of an art project he named ‘Take the Money and Run’.
In 2021, Haaning, renowned for his thought-provoking art centered around power dynamics and societal disparities, was commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg to recreate two previous works employing banknotes to symbolize average incomes in Denmark and Austria. The museum allocated a total of 532,000 kroner, which included a 40,000 kroner artist’s fee, for this project.
However, upon unwrapping the pieces, museum staff were taken aback to discover the canvases devoid of any artistic rendering, bearing only the title ‘Take the Money and Run’. Haaning justified his actions, stating that the essence of the work lay in “taking their money” as part of the conceptual breach of contract, an integral component of the artwork.
Following this unexpected twist, the museum proceeded to put the blank canvases on display but demanded the return of the unutilized funds. Haaning’s refusal led to a legal battle, culminating in a Copenhagen court’s recent decision to compel the artist to reimburse the museum with 492,549 kroner, equivalent to the initial funding minus his fee.
In response to the court’s verdict, Haaning acknowledged the controversy’s impact on his artistry while expressing uncertainty about his future actions. He also remarked on the financial gain the Kunsten Museum experienced due to the public attention generated by the case.
The museum’s director, Lasse Andersson, found humor in Haaning’s unexpected artistic approach but refrained from providing further commentary on the ruling, leaving room for potential appeals that Haaning has expressed no intention to pursue.
This incident has ignited discussions about the boundaries and responsibilities of conceptual art, prompting both artists and institutions to reflect on the nature of artistic expression, contractual agreements, and the perceptions of value within the contemporary art world.