Have you ever found yourself in front of a work of art that left you speechless, not just because of its aesthetics, but because of the powerful message it conveyed? It is a phenomenon that often happens in the art world, a world where creativity constantly challenges the boundaries of conventionality. Art, in fact, is not only a vehicle of beauty, but also a powerful tool for social criticism.
With this post I want to tell you about a story that has caused much discussion, a story in which art merges with criticism of the economic and social structure of our time.
Artist, swindler or genius? The audacious art project of Jens Haaning
The story took place in Copenhagen and ended on 18 September 2023, although I believe it will be talked about for a long time to come.
The protagonist of this story is the Danish artist Jens Haaning who, in 2020, was commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, a small town in the north of Denmark, to re-create two of his most famous works featuring banknotes.
For this commission, the museum had earmarked more than EUR 70,000 for the creation of the work, in addition to a fee of approximately EUR 5,300 for the artist’s work.
ARTIST, CONMAN OR GENIUS?
So far so good. A museum commissions works from an artist and he has to worry about executing the work on time. However, upon delivery, Jens Haaning surprised everyone by presenting the museum with only two blank canvases entitled ‘Take the Money and Run’.
Despite the initial shock, the museum decided to exhibit the canvases, but at the same time initiated a legal dispute to recover the more than 70,000 euro intended for the creation of the works. The conclusion of the court case saw the museum win, although the court ruled that Haaning could keep his fee, as the blank canvases were exhibited anyway.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ART AND MONEY
Jens Haaning, 58, is a well-known figure in the conceptual art scene.
The focus of his work is on themes of economic inequality, power, migration and Western nationalism.
The commissioned works were to represent, through the arrangement of banknotes, the average annual income of a Danish citizen in comparison to that of an Austrian citizen, highlighting wages as a means of measuring the value of labour and national differences within the European Union.
When Haaning presented the two empty canvases in 2021, the museum, while deciding to exhibit them, demanded the return of the funds earmarked for the work. The artist objected, starting a legal battle that only recently ended.
When questioned about the matter, Haaning emphasised that, in his opinion, it was not theft, but the violation of a contract and that this violation was an integral part of his artwork. He also encouraged others in adverse working conditions to follow his example.
TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN BY JENS HAANING
The work ‘Take the Money and Run’ is currently on display at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. The description of the work recognises art as an integral part of a capitalist system, despite the artists’ intentions to the contrary.
The story also raised a discussion about artists’ remuneration in Denmark and the museum, together with the artists’ union, worked to ensure fair remuneration.
This affair confronts us with some thorny questions. Firstly, it invites us to consider art not only as an aesthetic expression, but also as a critical mirror of the society in which we live. It also pushes us to rethink the value of the artist and his works in an art system that is in fact an economic system, governed by laws and rules like any other market.
Your answers, which I look forward to reading in the comments.