The title of the artwork was a clue to the artist's intentions — "Take the Money and Run."
A Danish museum gave about $83,000 to an artist to reproduce a pair of works displaying piles of cash, reflecting the nature of work in the modern world.
Instead the artist, Jens Haaning, delivered two blank canvases, which are featured in an exhibition at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. Haaning concedes that he did no actual work on the project after receiving a commission from the museum, in the northern city of Aalborg, but says he is keeping the cash — in the name of art, of course.
"This is only a piece of art if I don't return the money," Haaning said. "I believe that I have created a good and relevant piece of artwork, which could be hung on the wall."
The reaction from the Kunsten Museum has been mixed — at least publicly.
Artistic merits aside, Haaning did not fulfill his original commission, said Lasse Andersson, the museum's director. He said the artist was given 532,549 Danish kroner to reproduce two of his previous works, in which he had framed piles of kroner and euro bills to represent annual wages earned by workers in Austria and Denmark.
Therefore, the museum expects Haaning — whose actual commission payment had been set at 10,000 kroner, less than $1,600, plus expenses — to return the money that was supposed to be contained in the artworks, Andersson said. Otherwise, he added, he is prepared to take legal action.
But for now, the museum is playing along. Andersson said that Haaning's stunt was in the spirit of the commission, which was to prompt reflections on how and why people labor for money.
"The work is interesting to me," Andersson said. "It is partly a humorous comment: Why do we work; what is satisfying about being good at something?"
The episode, Andersson said, echoed the tale of Robin Hood: "The smart Jens Haaning cheats the bigger museum director — it is a story that is also funny."
But some of his colleagues were not as amused, according to another artist in the exhibition, John Korner, who was at the museum when Haaning's work was delivered.
"The curators were clearly disappointed," he said.