Museum loaned artist $ 84,000 – so he kept the money and called it “art”

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Jacqui Palumbo, CNN | Oscar Holland, CNN

When an exhibition on the future of work opened on Friday at a Danish art museum, visitors should have seen two large frames filled with banknotes with a combined value of $ 84,000.

The coins were to be reproductions of two works by artist Jens Haaning, who previously used framed silver to represent the average annual salaries of an Austrian and a Dane – in euros and Danish kroner respectively.

But when the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg took delivery of the artwork recreated before the exhibition, gallery staff made a startling discovery: the frames were empty. Rather than being the work of thieves, the loaned money was lacking thanks to Haaning himself, who says he keeps the money – in the name of art.

“I chose to make a new work for the exhibition, instead of showing the two 14 and 11-year-old works respectively,” Haaning told the museum in an email, the text of which is now displayed next to the empty frames. .

“The work is based on / responds to both your exhibition concept and the works we originally planned to show. “

The “new” concept piece, which Haaning called “Take the Money and Run,” is now at the center of a dispute between the museum and the artist over work, contractual obligations and the value of work – all themes. suitable for the exhibition.

“I saw, from my artistic point of view, that I could create a much better piece for them than they could imagine,” Haaning told CNN over the phone, adding, “I don’t see that I am. stole some money… I created a piece of art, which is maybe 10 or 100 times better than we expected. What’s wrong? “

Contractual dispute

In addition to loaning 534,000 Danish crowns to Haaning ($ 84,000) for the silver-filled works, the Kunsten Museum had agreed to pay an additional 10,000 crowns ($ 1,571) for his work, as well as to cover such costs. as framing and delivery. But the artist said the project would have always left him out, due to studio costs and staff salaries.

“I normally find myself in a better position when I present abroad,” he said. “I’m a Dane and this is (a) Danish museum and they expect me to invest because one day maybe they will buy something.”

Kunsten director Lasse Andersson said the museum had honored its end of the deal. “It’s really important to us because we’ve always been known to honor contracts and also pay reasonable fees to artists,” he said over the phone.

Haaning said he did not intend to return the money and was “not worried” about the possible consequences. Andersson said the artist had until January, when the exhibition ended, to repay the loan, after which the museum would consider legal action.

For now, the museum displays “Take the Money and Run” as it is, putting it on a platform to be viewed and criticized. In the art world, works that question the value of art itself – like Maurizio Cattelan taping a banana to a wall or Banksy shredding a painting at auction – are nothing new. The works of art are also not invisible, the late Yves Klein having exhibited an empty room to thousands of people in 1958.

Commenting on the value of labor is, after all, Haaning’s intention. “I think behind the article hides a much more general statement: that (you) should look at the structures you participate in and think about it,” he said, listing religion and marriage among them. “And if necessary, you know, take the money and run.”

Andersson has his own take on empty frames, which he sees in the context of his museum’s exhibit, “Work it Out”.

“Do we have to work for money or can we just take it?” Asked Andersson. “Why are we going to work? All of these kinds of things make us start thinking about the cultural habits of the society of which we are a part. And then this also applies to the question: are artists paid enough for what they do?

Still, the museum director would like to see the money returned.

“It’s not my money, it’s public money, it’s museum money,” he said. “That’s why (in January) we have to make sure it comes back to us. “

Top image: A visitor to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art inspects Jens Haaning’s “Take the Money and Run, 2021”

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