Danish artist Jens Haaning takes museum's money and runs in protest over 'miserable' work conditions

Artist Jens Haaning said his piece, 'Take the Money and Run,' was a comment on the pay conditions offered by the Kunsten museum
Artist Jens Haaning said his piece, 'Take the Money and Run,' was a comment on the pay conditions offered by the Kunsten museum   -  Copyright  Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg
By Tom Bateman

A Danish artist is refusing to pay over €70,000 back to a local art museum in protest at what he called "miserable" working conditions and low pay.

Artist Jens Haaning received 534,000 Danish krone (€71,808) from the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg to recreate two previous works of art for an exhibition entitled "Work it Out," focused on the relationship between art and working life.

The museum expected Haaning to send them back two picture frames containing the cash, which would visualise the average annual income of a person in Denmark and Austria.

What they got were two empty frames and a note saying that Haaning had pocketed the money in order to create a new conceptual art piece called "Take the Money and Run".

'The artwork is that I have taken their money'

Kunsten confirmed to Euronews Next that Haaning's move was unexpected.

"The curator received an email in which Jens Haaning wrote that he had made the work and the work title into "Take the Money and Run". Subsequently, we could ascertain that the money had not been put into the work," a museum spokesperson said.

Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg
While the piece wasn't what it ordered, the museum has still put 'Take the Money and run' on displayKunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg

A spokesperson for Kunsten told Euronews Next that the museum expected to be repaid early next year.

"We have from the beginning had a written agreement with Jens Haaning that the money must be returned when the exhibition ends on 16 January 2022. That agreement still applies," they said.

But Haaning told Danish national broadcaster DR he did not intend to return the museum's money.

"No, it's not going to happen. The work is that I have taken their money," he said.

'Grab what you can and beat it'

The artist told DR that his new work was inspired by the pay Kunsten offered him for the exhibition. According to Haaning, he would have had to pay roughly €3,300 out of his own pocket to recreate the two artworks.

"I encourage other people who have working conditions as miserable as mine to do the same. If they're sitting in some shitty job and not getting paid, and are actually being asked to pay money to go to work, then grab what you can and beat it," he said.

Kunsten director Lasse Andersen told DR that he agreed Haaning had created an interesting artwork.

"I would agree with Jens that a work in its own right has been created, which actually comments on the exhibition we have. But that's not the agreement we had," he said.

"No, Jens should not get that money," he added.

Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg
Kunsten director Lasse Andersen said Haaning should not get to keep the moneyKunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg

Andersen said that Haaning's contract with Kunsten included a display fee for his work of around €1,340. The museum would also cover his expenses up to €6,000, Andersen said.

Haaning insisted that he would not return the money, which he claims has not been stolen.

"No, it's not theft. It's a breach of contract, and a breach of contract is part of the work," he said.

The Kunsten museum told Euronews Next that it was prepared to take action against Haaning if the money was not returned.

"Right now we 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," a spokesperson said.