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Blank robbery: Artist pockets gallery’s US$84,000, hands over unpainted canvases

October 6, 2021

Blank robbery: Artist pockets gallery’s US$84,000, hands over unpainted canvases

One man’s theft is another’s conceptual art – or at least that’s the claim being made by Danish artist Jens Haaning after pocketing thousands of dollars intended for use as materials in a piece about wages.

One man’s theft is another’s conceptual art – or at least that’s the claim being made by Danish artist Jens Haaning after pocketing thousands of dollars intended for use as materials in a piece about wages.

Mr Haaning received the equivalent of US$84,000 from Danish gallery Kunsten Museum of Modern Art to re-create earlier works exhibited in 2007 and 2010.

These two pieces consisted of bank notes stacked on top of each other, with the piles representing the average annual income of workers in Austria (in the 2007 piece) and Denmark (in 2010).

This 2021 re-creation was to be exhibited in Kunsten Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition, Work It Out, which looks to explore the relationship between artists and the labour market.

But when the gallery received a package from Mr Haaning, what they found inside were two blank canvases.

These canvases were part of a new work, Mr Haaning said – a conceptual art piece entitled Take The Money And Run.

For the less art-savvy among us, who may be trying to make sense of the blank canvases and the missing bank notes, Mr Haaning offered this explanation:

“The work is that I have taken their money.”

Speaking on a Danish radio program, Mr Haaning said the canvases alone were not the artwork, rather the act of taking US$84,000 from an unsuspecting gallery and failing to deliver the agreed-upon work was his new masterpiece.

While most people would see this as theft, Mr Haaning says nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s not theft,” he told listeners. 

“It is a breach of contract, and breach of contract is part of the work.”

There is more to this act of artistic rebellion, however, than an artist stealing from an overly trusting curator. According to Mr Haaning, the work is also a protest against bad working conditions.

Re-creating the two older works for the new exhibition, under the contract offered by Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, would have left Mr Haaning himself US$2,900 out of pocket, he said.

“I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same,” he said.

“If they are sitting on some shit job and not getting money and are actually being asked to give money to go to work, then take the box and [run] off.”

The gallery, for their part, is taking it well. The two canvases are both on display in the Work It Out exhibition and the director, Lasse Andersson, admitted he too found the incident funny.

“I actually laughed as I saw it,” he said.

But the laughs will end – Mr Andersson cautioned that if the money is not returned when the exhibition ends in January (as per the contract), the gallery will take “the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning complies with his contract”.

Mr Haaning has indicated he has no intention of returning the money.

Sources:


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