On 14th of January 2022 Danish artist Jens Haaning’s legal representative Tyge Trier in a 6-minute-long phone conversation with Lasse Andersson, director of Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, conveyed that the artistic concept of the artwork by Haaning implies that the money cannot be returned, opening the new chapter in the story following the world-famous artwork “Take The Money and Run” created for the exhibition “Work it Out” at Kunsten in Aalborg, closing today, the 16th of January 2022.
In the wake of the above-mentioned exhibition, Haaning received half a million kroner from the museum to reproduce two of his previous artworks: “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income”. In the two works, Danish kroner and Euro banknotes in amount of the respective average incomes would be displayed in frames to show how salaries can be used to measure the value of work and to show national differences within the European Union. Instead, Haaning created a new artwork” Take the Money and Run” which was delivered for the exhibition without the banknotes to the museum staff’s surprise.
In an email to the artist, prior to the closing of the exhibit on 14th of January, Kunsten’s director Lasse Andersson writes: “Kunsten chose, considering the circumstances, to exhibit the work, but has also maintained the agreement that the two originally agreed works to be exhibited were delivered as a replacement for the work "Take the Money and Run". However, this has not happened… Should we unexpectedly not receive the amount of DKK 532,549.00 returned, we must, for the sake of good order, already state that we then intend to withhold the work "Take the Money and Run" as well as fees and viewing fees until full return of that amount has taken place. Furthermore, for the sake of good order, I must clarify that, if the amount is not returned, we intend to pursue our justified claims in this regard via the courts.”
In spite of the apparent disapproval by the museum towards the artwork, the institution demonstrated its acknowledgement of the piece by including it in the exhibition and as a result experiencing unprecedented attention from the audience and media worldwide. “Whether media users call the work "The Emperor's New Clothes" or "A stroke of genius", it has made many people around the world relate to modern art – and it has given them an experience with art. And that is basically the purpose of Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg and other public art museums,” the museum writes on their website.
Despite the division in public opinions about the artwork, art historians and experts worldwide voice their validation of this piece being a masterwork of art. “I think it is art, and I think it is a wonderfully provocative piece. It’s a very important piece on the contemporary art scene. What Haaning is doing is calling attention to the underpayment of artists, and I think what he is doing is even more provocatively demonstrating the hypocrisy of certain kind of art institutions in the art world such as art fairs and museums that can be critics of capitalism on the one hand and yet underpay artists on the other,” says James Rushing Daniel, associate professor at University of Washington in an interview for Al Jazeera about Haaning’s work, 21 December 2021.
Jens Haaning appreciates the debate the work has stirred globally: “This is the most important work I have created to date, and I am happy to see it resonate so widely also reaching beyond the art world and the Western world”.
“As a gallerist it is always wonderful to see the artist you represent create a masterpiece and follow the resonance it triggers. I am already in discussion with other institutions about exhibiting “Take the Money and Run”, 2021 together with the two “original” works “An Average Danish Income”, 2007 and “An Average Austrian Income” 2010. It is a timeless example of how an artist today can claim superiority over the ever more complex art-market and institutional system’s operations,” says Masha Faurschou, founder of SABSAY Gallery.
It is not a surprise Tyge Trier has chosen to be Jens Haaning’s lawyer for this case. The advocate had for many years specialised in human rights and journalism and media law and, just as Jens Haaning is known to go ‘all in’. The famous Danish lawyer numerously took the cases to Strassbourg’s court and won, proving that he was right all the way, despite losing in all three court systems in Denmark. “I have always defended the freedom of expression, especially the freedom of artistic expression, which I see is the case with Jens Haaning’s creation” says Trier.