A Danish artist who delivered two framed blank canvases titled “Take the Money and Run” must repay the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art about $70,000 it had given him to reproduce artworks involving physical currency, a Copenhagen court ruled on Monday.
The museum had commissioned the artist, Jens Haaning, to recreate two of his earlier works, “An Average Austrian Year Income” (2007) and “An Average Danish Annual Income” (2010), which displayed cash in euros and Danish kroner. For the purpose of his new artworks, Haaning was given 532,549 kroner, according to the museum director, plus fees and expenses.
But Haaning surprised the museum by sending it “Take the Money and Run,” which was included in an exhibition from September 2021 to January 2022. When the exhibition closed, Haaning did not return the money, prompting the museum, which is in the northern city of Aalborg, to file a lawsuit.
The Copenhagen court pointed to the contract and the disbursement receipt, which both stated that the kroner were to be repaid after the exhibition. Though Haaning has said he did not intend to return the money, the court added, the museum never agreed to those terms.
In determining what Haaning owed, the court allowed him to keep almost $6,000 from the museum’s loan to compensate him for the showing of “Take the Money and Run.”
Haaning said in an interview on Tuesday that the ruling was what he expected and that he has not repaid the money because, he argued, keeping the money is itself the art.
“I will go so far to say that the piece is that I have taken the money,” he said. “The two empty frames is actually a representation of the concept. So more important than the absence of money is that I’ve taken the money.”
He acknowledged that he did not fulfill the original commission.
“I completed something else,” he said. “You’re asked to show a 10- and a 12-year-old work, and suddenly you have a better concept.”
In a statement responding to the decision, Lasse Andersson, the director of the Kunsten Museum, said he would have no comment while the case was proceeding, noting that there was a four-week period for appeals.
As part of the original exhibition, the museum posted on its website that “Take the Money and Run” was in a tradition of art “that leaves materials as a trace left behind or a framework for an idea or an action,” and compared it to works by Banksy and Bjorn Norgaard.
At the time, the museum added, “Even the lack of money in the work has a monetary value when it is designated as art and thus shows how the value of money is an abstract quantity.”
Lisa Abend and Torben Brooks contributed translation.