Jens Haaning: Modern art is full of people who push the limits, break the rules, and turn ideas on their heads. Jens Haaning is a Danish artist who spends much time thinking about why things work the way they do. In 2021, he started an art project to make the art world and a Danish museum think about creativity, commitment, and legal responsibilities.
The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, gave Haaning a loan of $76,000 to make new copies of two of his older works. The idea was that these pieces would be framed with money to show how much an average Austrian or Dane makes in a year. They would be in a show about how the future of work will change. It was a trust-based project in which money was given to an artist so that he could bring his artistic idea to life.
But Haaning’s answer to this plan was something no one could have considered. Instead of going along with the program, he gave the museum two empty frames with the words “Take the Money and Run” on them. Haaning said that his actions were a comment on low pay and that breaking the contract was essential to the artwork.
Haaning thought that, from an artistic point of view, he could give the museum something much better and more interesting than planned. He felt he hadn’t stolen money but had instead made a better art piece than expected. His unique way of doing things made people think about more prominent social structures and institutions. It pushed them to take a chance and break out of their own ideas if they needed to.
The Kunsten Museum was surprised by Haaning’s bold change of plans, but they chose to show his empty frames along with an email that explained what he did. This pick showed that the museum wanted people to get involved and talk about art that goes against the grain.
Haaning’s actions put him in a line of artists who have been controversial and pushed the edges of what art can be. People usually don’t get this kind of art or aren’t interested in it because it makes them wonder what art is all about. Artists keep doing things that make people think about what art is and how much it’s worth. For example, Maurizio Cattelan taped a banana to a wall, and Banksy tore up a picture at an auction.
But when the Copenhagen City Court ruled against Haaning, this artistic adventure took a turn that no one saw coming. It said that he had to pay back all of the money he had taken, minus 40,000 kroner ($5,730) for artist and show fees. The court said “Take the Money and Run” wasn’t good enough, mainly because it was nothing like what the artist said he would make.
Also, the court didn’t think the museum had broken Haaning’s copyright. During the meeting, he was also told that he would have to pay for his lawyer’s fees.
The Kunsten Museum‘s director, Lasse Andersson, said the museum would only know about the court’s decision once Haaning appealed. On the other hand, Haaning kept quiet about it.
Some of Haaning’s most controversial pieces were in the “Work It Out” show. People could question social and cultural rules about work and pay in this place. It made people think about important things, like whether or not people need to work to make money and whether or not artists are paid enough.
The central part of this story that makes you think is Jens Haaning’s case, which shows how hard art and contracts can be. It shows that deals and standards are essential even in avant-garde art. Even though artists can question the rules, the formal structure of the art world stays the same to protect everyone’s goals and interests.