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Artist forced to pay back $75,000 after submitting two blank canvases to museum

Kit Roberts

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Artist forced to pay back $75,000 after submitting two blank canvases to museum

Featured Image Credit: Niels Fabæk/Kunsten Museum of Modern Art

Artists have become known for their wild and wacky stunts, but one artist has ruffled the feathers of the art world after submitting two blank canvases to a gallery.

There's no denying that the world of art is worth a lot of money, with art pieces often being viewed as much as financial investments or tax breaks as much as for their artistic merit.

But Danish artist Jens Haaning pulled a stunt which could be seen to give a wry comment on just how money-motivated art has become after turning in two blank canvases with a hilariously direct name.

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Jens Haaning's work on display. Credit: HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images
Jens Haaning's work on display. Credit: HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Back in 2021, Haaning had been commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, to create an update of his series An Average Austrian Year Income, 2007 and An Average Danish Annual Income, 2010.

The pieces were made up of the actual amount of cash earned as an average annual income.

For the version to be displayed in Denmark, the museum had lent him 534,000 Danish kroner - the equivalent to around $75,000.

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The agreement was that the money, which would be displayed in the art, would be returned once the exhibition was over... something Haaning soon made clear would not happen.

Instead of the two frames containing the notes, Haaning turned in two blank white canvases.

And the name? 'Take the Money and Run'. Touché.

Haaning argued that the piece was actually better and more in keeping with the theme of the exhibition than what he had originally been commissioned to do, and that it raised important questions.

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The museum took a dim view of the artist not returning the money. Credit: HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images
The museum took a dim view of the artist not returning the money. Credit: HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

He asked: “Do we have to work for money, or can we just take it? Why do we go to work? All these kinds of things make us start to reflect on the cultural habits of society that we are part of."

Needless to say, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art did not share this view, as Haaning has now been ordered by a court to return the money following a legal battle lasting nearly two years.

After Haaning refused the museum's request, a Copenhagen court on Monday ordered him to refund the museum 492,549 Danish kroner - the equivalent of almost $70,000.

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Despite the conflict, museum director Lasse Andersson previously admitted that he had laughed out loud when he first saw the two blank canvases in 2021, and decided to show the works anyway.

"He stirred up my curatorial staff and he also stirred me up a bit, but I also had a laugh because it was really humoristic," Andersson told the BBC's Newsday programme in 2021.

The work was called 'Take the Money and Run'. Credit: Niels Fabæk/Kunsten Museum of Modern Art
The work was called 'Take the Money and Run'. Credit: Niels Fabæk/Kunsten Museum of Modern Art

This isn't the first time an artist has pulled such a stunt.

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On one iconic occasion, an auction of Banksy's artwork Love is in the Bin - a framed print of his Girl with a Balloon - saw the painting run through a shredder after the bidding stopped at $1.21 million.

You might think the buyer was horrified, but that seems unlikely given that the stunt made the work's value skyrocket. It later returned to auction in its shredded form and sold for $19.4 million.

Whether the massive increase in the piece's value from the stunt negates its message is for everyone to decide for themselves.

Topics: News, Art, World News

Kit Roberts
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