Artist Forced To Repay Museum After Sending Them Blank Canvases And Calling It ‘Art’

Jens Haaning's blank canvas titled Take the Money and Run

Getty Image

The definition of “art” is inherently subjective, and pieces that fall under the “modern art” umbrella have a tendency to spark some fierce debates about their merit—including one that led to a legal battle courtesy of a Danish artist who attempted to finesse a museum out of tens of thousands of dollars.

A couple of years ago, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark was gearing up to exhibit some pieces it had commissioned from Jens Haaning, an artist who’d been tasked with recreating some previous works featuring krone and Euro banknotes affixed to a canvas.

Haaning already had a reputation for stirring the pot in the art world, and he definitely lived up to it when he sent the museum a couple of blank canvases under the guise of an art piece he dubbed “Take the Money and Run.”

The museum had given Haaning more than 530,000 kroner (around $77,000) that was supposed to be affixed to the canvases he returned untouched (he also received around $4,000 for labor costs).

While it agreed to let him keep the smaller sum and hung the pieces in the museum for visitors to view, it (understandably) lobbied for the return of the unused cash, a request Haaning replied to by stating, “This is only a piece of art if I don’t return the money.”

The museum (which admitted the publicity generated more revenue than it would have gotten if Haaning had followed the terms of the commission) subsequently took the artist to court in a quest to recoup the funds, and according to the BBC, a judge ruled in its favor by ordering Haaning to hand over around $70,000 (the outlet states the amount represents “the sum the museum had given him minus the artist’s fee and the cost of mounting”).

Haaning has two weeks to repay the museum, but when you consider he told a Dutch outlet he doesn’t currently have enough funds in his possession, the story may take yet another turn.

Connor O'Toole avatar
Connor Toole is the Deputy Editor at BroBible. He is a New England native who went to Boston College and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. Frequently described as "freakishly tall," he once used his 6'10" frame to sneak in the NBA Draft and convince people he was a member of the Utah Jazz.