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DENMARK: Artist In €71k Row With Museum Over Blank Canvas Artwork

A row has ensued between a Danish artist who refused to pay over €70,000 back to a local art museum in protest at what he called “miserable” working conditions and low pay.

Conceptual, contemporary artist Jens Haaning received 534,000 Danish krone (€71,808) from the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg to recreate two previous works of art for an exhibition entitled “Work it Out,” focusing on the relationship between art and working life.

Having commission Haaning, the museum was hoping to get back two picture frames containing the cash visualising the average annual income of a person in Denmark and Austria.

“The curator received an email in which Jens Haaning wrote that he had made the work and the work title into “Take the Money and Run”. Subsequently, we could ascertain that the money had not been put into the work,” a museum spokesperson said.

The museum is now demanding a return of the cash: “We have from the beginning had a written agreement with Jens Haaning that the money must be returned when the exhibition ends on 16 January 2022. That agreement still applies,” they said.

However, Haaning told a local media he did not intend to return the museum’s money. “No, it’s not going to happen. The work is that I have taken their money,” he said.

The artist said that his new work was inspired by the pay Kunsten offered him for the exhibition. According to Haaning, he would have had to pay roughly €3,300 out of his own pocket to recreate the two artworks.

“I encourage other people who have working conditions as miserable as mine to do the same. If they’re sitting in some shitty job and not getting paid, and are actually being asked to pay money to go to work, then grab what you can and beat it,” he said.

Kunsten Museum director Lasse Andersen also told the same local media that he agreed Haaning had created an interesting artwork.

“I would agree with Jens that a work in its own right has been created, which actually comments on the exhibition we have. But that’s not the agreement we had,” he said.

“No, Jens should not get that money,” he added.

Andersen said that Haaning’s contract with Kunsten included a display fee for his work of around €1,340. The museum would also cover his expenses up to €6,000, Andersen said.

Haaning insisted that he would not return the money, which he claims has not been stolen.

“No, it’s not theft. It’s a breach of contract, and a breach of contract is part of the work,” he said.

“Right now we wait and see. If the money is not returned on 16 January as agreed, we will of course take the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning complies with his contract,” a Kunsten museum spokesperson maintained.