Blank Conceptual Works Leave Artist Out $70K+ For Breaching Contract With Museum
By Mikelle Leow, 20 Sep 2023
Photo 12123865 © Luna Vandoorne Vallejo | Dreamstime.com
Do you have to see art to recognize its value? One Danish artist has learned the hard way that the devil is always in the details. Now, he’s been ordered by a Copenhagen court to pay the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art nearly 500,000 Danish kroner (US$71,600) for turning up blank canvases as finished art.
Jens Haaning has carved out a name with his framed artworks of banknotes depicting the average income of a citizen in their respective country. To reflect current salaries, in 2021, the museum commissioned the artist to recreate earlier pieces from 2007 and 2011 that displayed the annual wages of the average Danish and Austrian worker respectively.
The Kunsten Museum loaned Haaning 532,549 kroner (US$76,304) in krone notes and euro bills to front his canvases. However, Haaning kept the money and produced empty works, entitling the framed pieces Take the Money and Run. According to him, the stark portrayals were a commentary on poor wages.
On paper, the museum related to the work, describing Take the Money and Run as an acknowledgement that art is “part of a capitalist system that values a work based on some arbitrary conditions.” It cited the artist’s name and their gallery of representation as some of the conditions that define value in the art world.
“Even the missing money in the work has a monetary value when it is named art and thus shows how the value of money is an abstract quantity,” the museum added. It also likened the blank pieces to Banksy’s Love is in the Bin, formerly known as Girl with a Balloon, which saw the famous print being shredded right after it was auctioned off.
However, the institution filed a civil lawsuit against Haaning and asked to get its banknotes back. “We are not a wealthy museum,” a spokesperson for the Kunsten Museum told the Guardian in 2021. They shared that a lot of consideration had to be given before the museum decided where to use its funds.
The creator retaliated by saying the work could only be deemed as art if he didn’t return the money. “It’s not theft,” he argued in a radio interview. “It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”
Elaborating on his stance, Haaning shared with news outlets that the 10,000 krone (US$1,433) he was offered for completing the artworks wouldn’t be enough to pay for framing, delivery, staff wages, and studio costs.
When threatened with legal action, Haaning welcomed it, proclaiming that he was armed with lawyers and had free legal representation leading “to the gates of hell.”
Well, he will now need this aid as the Copenhagen City Court has asked him to repay the museum 492,549 kroner (US$70,565), which is the original amount lent by the commissioner minus 40,000 kroner (US$5,730) in artist’s and viewing fees, for the works had already been displayed. Haaning will also have to fork out an additional 78,500 kroner (US$11,246) in court fees.
The artist told Danish broadcaster DR that he was “shocked” by the verdict, but it was also “exactly what [he had] imagined.”
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