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Artist Ordered To Repay Museum After Submitting Empty Frames

Danish conceptual artist Jens Haaning has been ordered by a Copenhagen court to repay the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, northern Denmark, after he submitted two empty frames to the institution in place of his commission, according to news sources.

Haaning was loaned about 532,000 krone (roughly $49,500) from the museum’s coffers to recreate his work An Average Danish Annual Income (2007) which displayed krone notes fixed to canvas in a frame, and a similar work from 2011 that used euro bills to comment on average incomes in Australia.

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He delivered the works to the museum two days before the exhibition “Work It Out” was set to open, but after unpacking the works museum staff discovered he had submitted two empty frames titled Take the Money and Run. The exhibition ran from September 24, 2021, to January 1, 2022.

The museum ultimately hung the frames but demanded that Haaning repay the commission. (He was also paid an artist’s fee of 40,000 krone, or about $3,700.)

According to the news sources, Haaning’s contract stipulated that the money be returned by January 16. That date came and went without Haaning returning the money.

“We are not a wealthy museum,” director Lasse Andersson, said in an interview. “We have to think carefully about how we spend our funds, and we don’t spend more than we can afford.” According to Andersson, the money Haaning was loaned was intended to pay for building upkeep.

Haaning, whose work focuses on power and inequality, seems to have turned his artistic lens on himself. Speaking to the Danish radio station DR in 2021, Haaning said that he would not be returning the money, and implied that the museum didn’t understand his work. “[Take the Money and Run is about the fact that] I’ve taken their money. It’s not theft. It’s breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.” He claimed that recreating the works would have left him in the red.

Haaning went on to encourage people “who have working conditions as miserable as mine to do the same. If they’re sitting in some shitty job and not getting paid, and are actually being asked to pay money to go to work, then grab what you can and beat it.”

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