Artist Takes Money And Runs, Leaving Behind Work Titled 'Take The Money And Run'
In 2007, Danish artist Jens Haaning put together a work of art called "An Average Austrian Year Income." He placed €25,000 in actual bank notes (that's about $29,000) behind glass, because that was the average income in Austria. As an attempt to convey something about the average Austrian income, the work was a total failure. Seeing the notes all at once really doesn't give you any better conception of the sum than seeing the figure written down.
In 2010, he repeated the same stunt, this time in his home of Denmark with Danish kroner. The sum here was 328,000 kroner ($37,800), and again, it's unclear how seeing the notes behind glass was supposed to help anyone conceptualize anything. As one skeptical critic put it, "As a statistic, the average income by habitant is something that does not exist and that is never presented in this form, which inevitably sparks off the doubt on the veracity of the work."
This year, a Danish museum asked Haaning for part three in the series. They gave him $84,000 in kroner to be split between a selection of canvases. This time, he was supposed to use the notes to show how artist compensation varies across different countries, so perhaps this time, there would actually be some point in seeing the physical space the notes take up.
The proposed title: "Work It Out." But instead, Haaning wrote to the museum, saying he'd come up with a different piece, titled "Take the Money and Run." The full title, confusingly, is “Take the money and run (an average Austrian year income, 2007 and an average Danish year income 2010), 2021.” He mailed them empty canvases. The $84,000? He was holding on to that.
"The artwork is essentially about the working conditions of artists," wrote Haaning. "It is a statement saying that we also have the responsibility of questioning the structures that we are part of. And if these structures are completely unreasonable, we must break with them." This is of course art speak for "Gah, I want money."
The agreement with the museum said he had to return the cash (minus his compensation) intact in January 2022. As frustrated as museum personnel are, it looks like they're taking no legal steps to reclaim it before then. We trust he will return the money and is not actually fleeing the country with the sum, as artists are always a trustworthy lot.
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Top image: Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg