Danish artist and local genius Jens Haaning was given $84,000 by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark to use in a work of art—but instead of creating the piece he’d been commissioned to make, Haaning gave the museum two blank canvases and the title “Take the Money and Run.”
Haaning was given the $84,000 in banknotes in order to recreate his 2010 works “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income,” two pieces that used actual money to illustrate the average incomes of the respective countries. At the time the works of art were originally exhibited, the Danish average income was 328,000 kroner ($37,800USD) and the Austrian average income was €25,000 ($29,000 USD), and the museum included an additional 6,000 euros so Haaning could update the pieces. So, Kunsten Museum staff were understandably surprised when they opened the crates containing Haaning’s work to find blank canvases and approximately $0 in cash.
Kunsten Museum director Lasse Andersson said he actually laughed when he finally saw “Take the Money and Run.” “Jens is known for his conceptual and activistic art with a humoristic touch,” Andersson said. “And he gave us that—but also a bit of a wake-up call as everyone now wonders [where] did the money go.”
In a press release, Haaning said that by changing the title of the work, he was “[questioning] artists’ rights and their working conditions in order to establish more equitable norms within the art industry.”
“Everyone would like to have more money and, in our society, work industries are valued differently,” Haaning said 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. It can be your marriage, your work - it can be any type of societal structure”.
Haaning’s contract reportedly states that the $84,000 is not his and that it is to be returned to the Kunsten Museum at the close of the exhibit in January 2020.
But Haaning says he has no intention of giving the money back. “Of course I will not pay it back,” Haaning told international art publication The Art Museum on Tuesday. “The work is that I took the money and I will not give it back.”
It’s unlikely that the work will become a series, Haaning added. “If someone has too much money they might want to give it away,” he laughed. “I am open to invitations.”