Danish artist ordered to repay museum for exhibiting blank canvases

'Take the Money and Run' artwork - Danish artist ordered to repay museum for exhibiting blank canvas
'Take the Money and Run' was supposed to have banknotes on them rather than be two blank canvases - AFP/Henning Bagger

A Danish artist was ordered to pay just under £57,000 to a museum after giving them two blank canvasses for a piece he called “Take the Money and Run”

Jens Haaning was meant to embed the 500,000 Danish Kroner in banknotes he got from the Kunsten Museum in Aalborg into the framed fabric .

Instead, he pocketed the cash and handed over two empty, white canvasses. “The work is that I have taken their money,” he told local media.

The 2021 art project was meant to be a statement on salaries in Denmark and Austria but drew a demand from the museum for the artist to return the £61,000 it had given him.

Mr Haaning, 58, refused, which led to a long legal battle over the blank frames, which the museum exhibited.

On Monday, a court in Copenhagen ordered him to refund the museum, but said he could keep roughly £4,000 of the cash for his expenses and artist’s fee.

After his defeat, Mr Haaning, whose work focuses on power and inequality, told the dr.dk website he would not be appealing the judgement.

“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,” he said.

He told a local TV broadcaster that the museum had made “much, much more” money than it had paid him because of the publicity around his cheeky artistic caper.

‘The work is I have taken their money’

The conceptual artist was commissioned to recreate two earlier works that used banknotes fixed to canvas to show average incomes.

Museum director Lasse Andersson said that he had laughed out loud when he saw the artworks in 2021.

“He stirred up my curatorial staff and he also stirred me up a bit, but I also had a laugh because it was really humoristic,” he told the BBC at the time.

But he also told the Guardian, “We are not a wealthy museum.…We have to think carefully about how we spend our funds, and we don’t spend more than we can afford.”

At the time, Mr Haaning told local media, “The work is that I have taken their money. It’s not theft. It is breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.

“I encourage other people who have working conditions as miserable as mine to do the same. If they’re sitting in some sh---y job and not getting paid, and are actually being asked to pay money to go to work, then grab what you can and beat it.”