Jens Haaning, a Danish artist paid by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, to reproduce an old sculpture, has instead stolen the money. With no intention to complete the sculpture, he is calling the theft of over $84,000 (534,000 kroner) “conceptual art.”
“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning told Danish radio show P1 Morgen. “It’s not theft. It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”
A 56-year-old artist living in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jens Haaning is known for his controversial work that comments on the intersection of art and money.
The Danish Museum asked Haaning to recreate an older work of his, but per a written agreement, he changed plans to debut a new work instead. According to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, the banknotes themselves were going to be displayed in the center of large white canvases the size of the pieces from 2007 and 2010 which he was asked to recreate.
The new pieces were meant to highlight the average annual income of Austrian and Danish citizens at the time. They were going to be displayed as part of an exhibit titled “Work It Out,” about the role of artists in the labor market.
However, when the Danish Museum received the frames, the bank notes were missing.
“Why should we show a work that is about Denmark… 11 years ago, or one that is about Austria’s relationship with a bank 14 years ago?” Haaning asked the museum. Pocketing the money, Jens Haaning said his empty canvases are a new piece of conceptual art titled Take the Money and Run.
Haaning alleged that he would have had to pay an additional $3,900 (25,000 kroner) out of his own pocket, on top of what the museum paid him, just to realize his older artworks once again. After creating a new agreement with the museum to display the banknotes, he said he came up with the idea of keeping the money for Take the Money and Run.
“Why do I not make a work that is about my own work situation?” Jens Haaning thought.
“I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same,” he said. “If they are sitting on some sh*t job and not getting money and are actually being asked to give money to go to work, then take the box and [run] off.”
At least for now, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art is playing along. The empty canvases of Take the Money and Run are on display in the exhibit, as originally planned. However, Jens Haaning is not expected to be able to keep the money.
A debate is raging online over whether or not his pieces are conceptual art, but the Danish Museum is of the opinion that what they received, though on display, is not what they paid for in their agreement.
“I absolutely want to give Jens the right [to say] that a new work has been created in its own right, which actually comments on the exhibition we have,” said Lasse Andersson, director of the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. “It’s a comment on how we all work, and it’s probably also a comment on the value of what he creates.”
“There are lots of layers that we think are interesting,” Andersson said. “But that is not the agreement we had.”
The Danish Museum expects Jens Haaning to return the stolen money by the end of January, when the exhibit closes.
A spokesperson for the museum told Artnet News that they will “wait and see” if Haaning returns the money before pressing charges. “If the money is not returned on 16 January as agreed,” however, the Kunsten Museum “will of course take the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning complies with his contract.”