Artist Tricks Museum Into Handing Over $84,000 for a Blank Canvas

A Danish museum recently loaned an artist $84,000 to use in creating a new work of art. Instead of using the cash to create what the museum expected, however, the artist delivered blank canvases titled “Take the Money and Run.”

NPR reports that the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, gave the money to well-known Copenhagen-based conceptual artist Jens Haaning for recreations of two previous works.

“An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income” were works by Haaning from over a decade ago that showed framed banknotes amounting to the average yearly income of Danes and Austrians, respectively. Those frames held 328,000 kroner (~$37,800 at the time) and €25,000 (~$29,000 at the time), respectively.

Instead of using the money he received as banknotes for art pieces, Haaning decided to keep the cash and send blank canvases to the museum as a new work of art that’s a commentary on low wages.

The museum staff was surprised when they cracked open the large crates Haaning shipped and pulled out blank canvases.

“I actually laughed as I saw it,” Kunsten CEO Lasse Andersson tells NPR. “It wasn’t what we had agreed on in the contract, but we got new and interesting art.”

“It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work,” Haaning tells Danish public broadcaster DR. “The work is that I have taken their money.”

“Everyone would like to have more money and, in our society, work industries are valued differently,” Haaning said in a statement, according to CBS News. “The artwork is essentially about the working conditions of artists. It is a statement saying that we also have the responsibility of questioning the structures that we are part of.

“And if these structures are completely unreasonable, we must break with them. It can be your marriage, your work – it can be any type of societal structure”.

The museum is now demanding its money back, but it has decided to exhibit the new unexpected artwork anyway as part of its exhibition titled “Work It Out“, which focuses on the future of work.

“I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same,” Haaning told the DR radio program P1 Morgen, translated by Artnet News. “If they are sitting on some s**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.”

Haaning now has a contractual deadline of January 16, 2022, when the exhibition concludes, to return the $84,000 to the museum. The artist says he has no plans to return the money, but the museum is waiting to see what happens when the deadline passes before deciding on its course of action.

Image credits: Header photo by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art.