A Danish artist who pocketed large sums of money lent to him by a museum – and submitted empty frames as his artwork – has been ordered by a court to repay the funds.
Jens Haaning, a conceptual artist whose work focuses on power and inequality, was commissioned in 2021 by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, northern Denmark, to recreate two earlier works that used scores of banknotes to represent average incomes.
Haaning’s 2007 work, An Average Danish Annual Income, displayed krone notes fixed to canvas in a frame, and a second 2011 work about Austrian incomes used euro bills.
The museum provided about 532,000 krone (£61,500) from its reserves to recreate artworks as well as an artist’s fee of about 40,000 krone. But when staff unpacked the newly delivered works, they found two empty frames with the title Take the Money and Run.
The museum put the new artworks on display, but when Haaning declined to return the money, it took legal action.
On Monday, a court in Copenhagen ordered the artist to repay the money that was loaned to him but said he should still be paid his fee.
At the time, Lasse Andersson, the director of the Kunsten Museum, told the Guardian: “We are not a wealthy museum. … We have to think carefully about how we spend our funds, and we don’t spend more than we can afford.”
Haaning told Danish radio at the time: “The work is that I have taken their money. It’s not theft. It is breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”
He added: “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.”