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,A court in Copenhagen ruled this week he has to pay at least some of it back.
The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark had asked Haaning to update two of his previous works, which used actual money to show the average incomes of Denmark and Austria, the museum said in a news release.
“Kunsten transferred the necessary funds to the artist’s personal bank account, having entered into a contract with Jens Haaning stipulating that he would return the money to Kunsten when the exhibition closed on 16 January 2022,” the news release reads.
Lasse Andersson, director of the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, told CBS News when the story first broke in 2021 that the $84,000 to be displayed in the art was not Haaning’s.
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 a news release from Haaning 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.”
In a statement in regards to the court ruling, Andersson said: “We now have a judgment, and we will carefully examine it. There is a four-week period for appeal for both parties, and as long as the case can still be appealed, we have no further comments.”
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 artist’s paintings – an image of a girl reaching for a heart-shaped balloon – sold for $1.4 million at auction –in front of auction-goers the moment it was sold.
While the piece essentially self-destructed after the auction, it yielded yet another sale. Thefor $25.4 million in October 2021 – a record for the artist.
Similar art antics have made headlines in recent years. Aat 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.
CBS News has reached out to Haaning and the gallery that represents him for further comment and is awaiting response.