Danish artist Jens Haaning submitted blank canvases as ‘art’, forced to repay museum

A Danish artist who submitted blank canvases as “art” has been ordered to repay the museum $120,000.

Jens Haaning, a contemporary artist known for his provocative work, was commissioned by Denmark’s Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in 2021 to create art on a loan of 530,000 Danish krone ($A117,000).

The cash was supposed to go towards updated versions of two of Mr Haaning’s past works — frames filled with banknotes depicting the average annual salaries of an Austrian and a Dane — for an exhibition on the future of labour.

Instead, Mr Haaning sent the museum a series titled Take the Money and Run. It featured two empty frames.

Mr Haaning claimed the pieces were a commentary on low wages and thus a “better” fit for the exhibition’s theme, even saying his breach of contract was part of the work.

“I don’t see that I have stolen money … I have created an art piece, which is maybe 10 or 100 times better than what we had planned. What is the problem?” he said to CNN at the time.

“My breach of contract is the work. The work is that I have taken their money,” he added to local media.

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, in Alborg, didn’t see quite so much artistic value in the stunt. It took Mr Haaning to court, sparking a lengthy legal battle.

The museum did, however, display the empty canvases in a separate exhibition called Work It Out, alongside a printout of an email in which Mr Haaning explained his actions.

On Monday, after more than two years of litigation, Copenhagen City Court ruled in the museum’s favour.

The court ordered Mr Haaning to return nearly all of the cash, minus 40,000 krone ($A8800) in artist and display fees.

The court said Take the Money and Run was “deficient” compared to what was outlined in Mr Haaning’s contract with the museum, as he had agreed to deliver two different pieces. The ruling also dismissed a counterclaim made by Mr Haaning, who alleged that the museum had infringed on the work’s copyright.

Mr Haaning was also ordered to pay the costs of the legal proceedings. He has said he does not plan to appeal.

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