Museum paid artist $84K — he delivered 2 blank canvases


It was a case of art imitating heist.

Just in case you thought charging $120,000 for a banana was highway robbery, a Danish museum gave an artist $84,000 to use in a commissioned piece — only to have him pocket the cash and turn in two blank canvases cheekily entitled “Take the Money and Run.”

The blank robbery occurred after the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg asked Danish artist Jens Haaning to re-create two of his prior works: 2010’s “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income,” first exhibited in 2007, CBS News reported. Those politically charged pieces used actual banknotes to showcase the average incomes of citizens of Denmark and Austria, respectively.

The reboots were slated to appear in “Work it Out,” a current exhibition on the role of artists in the labor market, according to ArtNet. Along with an undisclosed compensation for the project, the institution lent Haaning $84,000 — plus offered an additional 6,000 euros (about $7,000), if needed — to be displayed in the opus itself.

Per the contract, that amount would have to be returned to the museum at the end of the exhibition on Jan. 16, 2022.

"Take the Money and Run" ​by Danish artist Jens Haaning, in on display at the museum Kunsten in Aalborg,
“Take the Money and Run,” by Danish artist Jens Haaning, is on display at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark.
EPA

But the curators first suspected something was amiss upon receiving an email from Haaning that said he had changed the artwork’s name to “Take the Money and Run.” Indeed, when museum staffers opened up the box containing Haaning’s contributions, they discovered two blank canvases — while the cash had disappeared entirely.

“The money had not been put into the work,” museum director Lasse Andersson told CBS News.

Haaning said he had a good reason for literally drawing a blank.

“The work is that I have taken their money,” the nada-Vinci told Danish radio program “P1 Morgen” last week of the irreverent performance piece and mega-minimalist work. “It’s not theft. It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”

The artist said he had conceived the cheeky creation as a protest against the pittance he received for inclusion in the show, which reportedly required him to pay nearly $4,000 to reimagine the two works, according to ArtNet.

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark.
The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark.
Alamy Stock Photo

The insolent gag might sound like the art-world equivalent of a high school slacker fudging an exam, but the artist claimed that the piece provides relevant political commentary on the status of artists in society.

” ‘Take the Money and Run’ questions artists’ rights and their working conditions in order to establish more equitable norms within the art industry,” per a press release from Haaning.

“Everyone would like to have more money and, in our society, work industries are valued differently,” added the painter-cum-pilferer in a statement. “The artwork is essentially about the working conditions of artists. It is a statement saying that we also have the responsibility of questioning the structures that we are part of. And if these structures are completely unreasonable, we must break with them.”

The insolent gag might sound like the art world equivalent of a high school slacker fudging an exam, but the artist claimed that the piece provides relevant political commentary on the status of artists in society.
The insolent gag might sound like the art world equivalent of a high school slacker fudging an exam, but the artist claimed that the piece provides relevant political commentary on the status of artists in society.
EPA

And the provocative piece doesn’t just apply to the art world, he said.

“I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same,” Haaning explained. “If they are sitting on some s – – 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.”

Museum honcho Andersson, for one, actually found the on-the-nose stunt amusing.

“Jens is known for his conceptual and activistic art with a humoristic touch,” the art director mused. “And he gave us that — but also a bit of a wake-up call, as everyone now wonders, ‘Where did the money go?’ “

As for the $84,000, Hanning “hasn’t broke any contract yet,” Andersson said, since repayment isn’t due until early next year. However, he specified that if the money is not returned by then, the museum will “take the necessary steps to ensure that” the provocateur coughs up the cash.



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