Jens Haaning, Take the Money And Run (2021) (Courtesy the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art)

This story of a cunning artist and an unsuspecting museum will make you rethink what conceptual art can get you. The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in ​​Aalborg, Denmark, lent the artist Jens Haaning 534,000 kroner (~$84,000) to reproduce two of his older artworks. But what did he do instead? He kept the money to himself and renamed the series Take the Money and Run.

According to a written agreement between the two sides, Haaning was expected to utilize the banknotes from the payment to recreate two pieces he made in 2007 and 2010. The original artworks represented the respective average annual incomes of Austrians and Danes using cash bills. But for his latest, Haaning delivered two empty frames, with no banknotes to be seen.

“The work is that I have taken their money,” Haaning explained in an interview with the Danish radio program P1 Morgen. “It’s not theft. It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”

Is it mere provocation or an act of protest against the work conditions of artists? According to Haaning, it’s both. The artist claimed that the stunt was in reaction to the low fees offered to him by the museum. Completing the works would’ve required him to pay an extra 25,000 kroner (~$3,900) out-of-pocket, he argued. Showing no remorse, Haaning said that he has no intention to return the money.

“I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same,” he told the Danish radio show. “If they are sitting on some shit job and not getting money and are actually being asked to give money to go to work, then take the box and [run] off.”

The museum seems to be enjoying the publicity, at least for now. Haaning’s empty frames were included in the exhibition Work it Out, which examines the labor market and the working conditions of artists. However, the museum is planning to claim the loan back when the exhibition ends in January.

“It wasn’t what we had agreed on in the contract, but we got new and interesting art,” Kunsten’s director Lasse Andersson told Hyperallergic in an email.

When asked if the museum would consider taking legal action against Haaning, Andersson replied: “Right now we’ll wait and see. If the money is not returned on 16 January as agreed, we will of course take the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning complies with his contract.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...