In a cheeky artistic statement that stunned a Danish museum, a Copenhagen court ordered an artist to repay over $76,000 after submitting two blank canvases instead of the anticipated artworks titled ‘Take the Money and Run.’ This act sparked a legal battle that raised questions about contemporary art’s boundaries and artists’ obligations.
Artist Submits Blank Canvases
Jens Haaning, the Danish artist behind the controversial move, submitted two blank canvases to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg.
The incident sparked a nearly two-year legal battle, and now a Danish court has ruled that he must reimburse the museum for the substantial sum of 500,000 Danish kroner (approximately $76,500).
The two blank canvases at the center of this artistic and legal saga were meant to be reinterpretations of Haaning’s earlier works, “An Average Austrian Annual Income” (2007) and “An Average Danish Annual Income” (2010).
“Work It Out” Exhibition
These artworks were a commentary on the salaries of the average Austrian and Danish workers and contained banknotes totaling their respective yearly incomes.
The museum had commissioned Haaning to recreate these thought-provoking artworks as part of its “Work It Out” exhibition, which encouraged visitors to think about their career aspirations.
The plan was for these new pieces to hold a total of 534,000 kroner in cash for the 2021 exhibition.
Unlike his previous works, Haaning was offered a loan by the museum to cover the entire amount needed for the project.
“Take the Money and Run”
However, when the museum unveiled the artworks, they were shocked to see a blank canvas that bore the collective title, “Take the Money and Run.”
Haaning explained that this new creation aimed to shed light on the issue of underpayment in the workforce, encouraging checkout staff to symbolically take from the cash register and make a run for it.
While his contract stated that he must return the money to the museum after the exhibition, Haaning was clear from the outset that he had no intention of complying. In his own words, “The work is that I have taken their money.”
“We Are Not a Wealthy Museum”
Museum director Lasse Andersson asserted that Haaning wasn’t entitled to keep the funds, as the agreement specified only a 10,000 kroner artist fee and 6,000 kroner for expenses.
“We are not a wealthy museum,” Andersson emphasized. “We have to think carefully about how we spend our funds, and we don’t spend more than we can afford.”
Haaning argued that the museum had reaped significant benefits from the two-year publicity generated by the piece.
Indeed, Kunsten Museum recognizes the piece on its website as a critique of art world mechanisms and societal structures.
Artist in Debt
While Lasse Andersson admitted to finding humor in the submission, the legal battle concluded, with the Copenhagen court siding with the museum.
Despite deductions for Haaning’s fees and costs, the artist now faces a substantial debt.
Haaning reflected on the situation, stating, “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.”
The saga of artists challenging established norms within the art world is far from unique.
Shredded Artwork Cost Millions
Banksy’s infamous 2018 artwork, “Love Is in the Bin,” serves as another striking example.
Originally titled “Girl With Balloon,” the artwork self-destructed through its own frame immediately after being sold at auction for £1 million (approximately $1.2 million) at London’s Sotheby’s.
Despite its altered form, the shredded artwork made a return to auction, fetching a huge £16 million.
This incident, like Haaning’s brave move, showcases the complex relationship between artists and museums in the ever-evolving world of contemporary art.
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