Danish artist takes museum’s money and runs: 'I will not pay it back,' he says

Jens Haaning calls his conceptual work for the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg Take the Money and Run

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Jens Haaning sent empty frames to the museum for a new artwork called Take the Money and Run Image courtesy of Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg

Jens Haaning sent empty frames to the museum for a new artwork called Take the Money and Run Image courtesy of Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg

A Danish artist has made off with 538,000 Danish kroner (around $85,000) belonging to a museum and described the move as a conceptual work with the title Take the Money and Run.

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg asked Jens Haaning to recreate two works: one he had produced in 2011 called An Average Danish Annual Income, which featured krone banknotes in a frame, and an earlier version, An Average Austrian Annual Income.

Both were to be shown at an exhibition about working life, called Work It Out, which opened on 24 September. For his previous renditions, Haaning had borrowed the money from a bank. This time round, the museum agreed to loan him the cash from its limited reserves, says Lasse Andersson, the director of the Kunsten Museum. The average Danish annual income was around 328,000 kroner, while the average Austrian salary was around €25,000.

But when the works were delivered to the museum the day before the exhibition opened, “there were empty frames,” Andersson says. “Haaning sent us an email saying he thought it was more interesting to do a new work, and it was called Take the Money and Run.”

Andersson says he is not intending to go to the police just yet. The museum’s contract with Haaning requires him to pay the money back by 14 January, 2022. “We are not a rich museum,” he says, adding that the money was funds set aside for upkeep of the building. “We are really hoping the money will come back.”

But Haaning, who exhibited at Documenta in 2002, says he has no intention of repaying the cash.

“Of course I will not pay it back,” he says. “The work is that I took the money and I will not give it back.”

The museum has hung the empty frames in the spot designated for Haaning’s work in the exhibition, alongside his email explaining the new conceptual work. “It’s more-or-less a performance work,” Andersson says.

Haaning says it is unlikely the work will become a series.

“If someone has too much money they might want to give it away,” he laughs. “I am open to invitations."

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