When the staff at Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in northern Denmark opened boxes last week from artist Jens Haaning, they expected to see pieces featuring the half-million kroner they lent him for the works of art, the director told a Danish radio show host.
The new name for the artwork: “Take the Money and Run.”
Now, the museum in Aalborg, Denmark, is accusing him of breaking their legal agreement and demanding the artist return the 534,000 kroner, the equivalent of over $84,000.
“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning said in an interview with Danish radio show “P1 Morgen.”
The 56-year-old resident of Copenhagen gained popularity in the 1990s. He is known for using art as commentary on money, power and marginalized groups, according to the Faurschou Foundation, a Copenhagen-based art museum.
Haaning’s pieces were meant to be part of a new exhibition at the Kunsten Museum about the labor market entitled “Work It Out.” Running from through Jan. 16, the exhibit features new and existing works from about 20 artists and occupies the majority of the museum.
The museum asked Haaning to re-create his works from 2007 and 2010, which were visual representations of the average annual income for Austrians and Danes, respectively, by displaying the sum in bills affixed to a canvas.
The museum paid him 25,000 kroner — about $3,900 — Haaning told “P1 Morgen,” in addition to fronting the money that would be displayed in the two pieces. But when he realized it would cost him 25,000 kroner alone to fund the project, he decided to change his plans.
“Why do I not make a work that is about my own work situation?” he said.
He said he believes the new artworks are an apt representation of the museum’s exhibit and encourages others to reexamine their work conditions.
Lasse Andersson, the museum director, agrees that Haaning’s work is appropriate for collection but stipulated that his decision to take the money for himself violates their legal agreement.
“I want to give Jens absolutely the right that a work has been created in its own right, which actually comments on the exhibition we have,” Andersson told “P1 Morgen.” “But that is not the agreement we had.”
But Haaning is standing strong, noting that his decision is what makes the empty frames works of art.
“It’s not theft,” Haaning said. “It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”
Haaning has until Jan. 14 to return the funds, according to Andersson. But the museum director doesn’t want to wait.
“Jens should not have the money because it is not part of the agreement,” Andersson said.
Despite Haaning’s alleged breach of his agreement, Kunsten Museum is still displaying the works he sent them last week.
“It’s a comment on how we all work, and it’s probably also a comment on the value of what he creates,” Andersson told Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. “So there are lots of layers that we think are interesting.”