Search Museum Next

Kunsten Museum Wants Artist to Pay Back Money After “Take the Money and Run” Artwork

Kunsten Museum of Modern Art / Source: Kunsten Museum of Modern Art

The Kunsten Museum in Denmark has said that it thinks an artist it commissioned to produce a new work of art should return the cash it handed over to him to make the piece. The idea behind the project was that old banknotes would be used to fashion some recognisable images. The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art wanted to promote itself and its collection by having old artworks made from money to show to visitors at its site in the Danish city of Aalborg. To this end, it awarded some 534,000 kroner, the currency used in Denmark, to the artist so he could set about turning it into something visual. This sum approximates to about £61,000 but the artist concerned, Jens Haaning had other ideas of what to do with it.

Instead of laying the banknotes out on a canvas in a recreation of a famous work of art, Haaning decided to pocket the money. However, he honoured his part of the deal in a way. Instead of merely disappearing with the cash that had been given to him, Haaning presented the museum with a blank canvas which he entitled ‘Take the Money and Run’. Presumably referring to the initial idea of using money to produce art, the artwork Haaning gave to the museum was devoid of any traditional elements of visual art including paint. Instead, the piece appeared to be more conceptual in its approach, making a comment on the very concept of how artists are paid and commissioned.

The Danish artist had been commissioned by the Kunsten Museum to make art with banknotes, however. The reason the particular sum had been chosen for the piece was that this amount represented the annual salary of people working in Denmark and Austria and was – presumably, at least – meant to offer people the chance to reflect on the valuations masterpieces have compared to average incomes in Europe.

Museum Response

According to Lasse Andersson, the director of the Kunsten Museum, Hanning’s approach had generated mixed reactions from his institution. “[Hanning]… stirred up my curatorial staff,” he said. “He also wound me up a little, but I also have to laugh at the situation,” the director added. Andersson admitted that despite the money going missing, the idea of producing blank canvases need to be seen with a sense of humour.

Nevertheless, Andersson told the press that he was adamant that the money Hanning had been given to produce the commissioned pieces needed to be repaid. He said that the final date for this would be when the temporary exhibition for which they were commissioned ends. “It is the gallery’s money,” he said, before adding that the museum has a legal contract in place with the artist that makes it plain that the money issued to him will have to be paid back on or prior to 16th January, 2022.

Deepening Dispute

For his part, the 56-year-old Haaning said that he intended on keeping the cash. Putting it in artistic terms, Haaning said that the work of art he had produced was the very fact that he had taken the museum’s money. “I would like to encourage others who might work under as similarly miserable working conditions as me to do the same thing,” he said. Haaning went on to say that if he had used the banknotes to recreate his past artworks for the museum that he would have been left out of pocket from the process.

Commenting on Haaning’s claim that the Kunsten Museum had not put up enough money to pay a fair amount for the creation of a new artwork, Andersson went on the record to dispute the assertion. He pointed out that the museum had recently signed up to an agreement with an artists association in Denmark that will raise the sums artists can expect to be paid while their works are exhibited. “I think [Hanning]… has kind of broken that deal,” he said.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week