A museum says they gave an artist $84,000 in cash to use in artwork. He delivered blank canvases and titled them “Take the Money and Run.”

A Danish artist was given $84,000 by a museum to use in a work of art. When he delivered the piece he was supposed to make, it was not as promised. Instead, the artist, Jens Haaning, gave the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark two blank canvases and said they were titled “Take the Money and Run.”

Haaning was asked to recreate two of his previous works: 2010’s “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income,” first exhibited in 2007. Both used actual cash to show the average incomes of the two countries, according to a news release from the artist. 

In addition to compensation for the work, Haaning was also give bank notes to use in the work, museum director Lasse Andersson told CBS News via email. Their contract even stated the museum would give Haaning an additional 6,000 euros to update the work, if needed, Andersson said. At the time the works were initially exhibited, the Danish piece highlighted the average income of 328,000 kroner, approximately $37,800, while the average Austrian salary illustrated was around €25,000, or $29,000.

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For the “Work it Out” exhibit at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Haaning was meant to fill frames with money. But they were empty.

Jens Haaning


“We also have a contract that the money $84,000 US dollars to be displayed in the work is not Jens’ and that it must be paid back when the exhibition closes on 16 January 2022,” Andersson said.

“The exhibition is called ‘Work it Out’ and features works of art by many different contemporary artists,” he said, adding that the exhibition It runs from September 24 to January 16, 2022.

Andersson said when they spoke to the artist about making the piece earlier this year, he agreed to the contract and “he indicated a fairly easy job.”

But when it came time for Haaning to actually deliver, he did the unexpected. 

“The curator received an email in which Jens Haaning wrote that he had made a new piece of art work and changed the work title into ‘Take the Money and Run,'” Andersson said. “Subsequently, we could ascertain that the money had not been put into the work.”

Indeed, the frames meant to be filled with cash were empty.

“The staff was very surprised when they opened the crates. I was abroad when the crates were opened, but suddenly received a lot of mails,” Andersson said. 

When he finally saw “Take the Money and Run,” Andersson said he actually laughed. “Jens is known for his conceptual and activistic art with a humoristic touch. And he gave us that – but also a bit of a wake up call as everyone know wonders were did the money go,” he said. 

According to Haaning’s press release, “the idea behind was to show how salaries can be used to measure the value of work and to show national differences within the European Union. But by changing the title of the work to “Take the Money and Run” Haaning “questions 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”. 

Andersson said while it wasn’t what they had agreed on in the contract, the museum got new and interesting art. “When it comes to the amount of $84,000, he hasn’t broke any contract yet as the initial contract says we will have the money back on January 16th 2022.”

The museum director said they’ll wait and see what Haaning does, but if the money is not returned on January 16, “we will of course take the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning complies with his contract.” 

He said they are in contact with Haaning, who he called a “well-respected and well-known artist in Denmark.” But they have yet to reach an agreement.

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