In 2021, a Danish artist was given $84,000 by a museum to use in a work of art – and he found a clever and devious use for the cash: He pocketed it. Instead of using the money in his work, Jens Haaning turned in two blank canvases, titling them “Take the Money and Run.” Now, he has been ordered to return at least some of the money, BBC News reports.
The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark had asked Haaning to recreate two of his previous works, which used actual money to show the average incomes of Denmark and Austria, Haaning said in a news release in September 2021. The museum gave Haaning extra euros to create updated pieces, and museum director Lasse Andersson told CBS News they had a contract.
The “$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.
But instead of delivering art using real money, Haaning delivered a twist. The frames that were meant to be filled with cash were empty. The title was changed to “Take the Money and Run.” And the museum accepted it.
Andersson said at the time that 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.”
But Haaning refused to turn in the money, according to BBC News. And after a long legal battle, the artist was ordered to refund the court 492,549 Danish kroner – or $70,623 U.S. dollars.
The sum is reduced to include Haaning’s artist fee and the cost of mounting the art, according to BBC News.
When Haaning first pulled the stunt, Andersson said he 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 now wonders where did the money go,” he told CBS News in 2021.
According to Haaning’s press release at the time, “the idea behind [it] was to show how salaries can be used to measure the value of work and to show national differences within the European Union.” 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.”
CBS News has reached out to the museum and Haaning for further comment and is awaiting response.
The stunt is reminiscent of Banksy, the anonymous artist who often leaves spray painted artwork in public places, without leaving any other trace of his presence. In 2018, one of the artists paintings – an image of a girl reaching for a heart-shapped balloon – sold for $1.4 million at auction – and immediately self-shredded in front of auction-goers the moment it was sold.
While the piece essentially self destructed after the auction, it yielded yet another sale. The shredded pieces of canvas were sold for $25.4 million in October 2021 – a record for the artist.
Similar art antics have made headlines in recent years. A banana duct taped to a wall at Miami’s Art Basel in 2019 sold as an artwork for $120,000 – and then was eaten by performance artist David Datuna at the art convention.