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Artist Who Turned in Empty Frames Ordered to Pay Back $75,000

  • Back in 2021, a Danish artist turned in empty frames after being paid 532,000 kroner by a museum for his art.
  • On Monday, a Copenhagen court ordered him to return the amount to the museum, per the Guardian.
  • “I am shocked, but at the same time it is exactly what I have imagined,” Haaning told Danish broadcaster DR.

Jens Haaning, a Danish conceptual artist, was paid 532,000 kroner — or around $75,000 at today’s conversion rate — for his artworks in 2021, only to turn in two empty frames titled “Take the Money and Run.”

The artist has now been ordered by a Copenhagen court to pay back the sum to the museum that commissioned the artworks, according to various media reports on Monday, including the Guardian. 

“I am shocked, but at the same time, it is exactly what I have imagined,” Haaning told Danish broadcaster DR on Monday, per NPR’s translation.

The artist added that he doesn’t have enough money to pay back the museum: “It has been good for my work, but it also puts me in an unmanageable situation where I don’t really know what to do.”

In 2021, Haaning was paid around $75,000 by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, to recreate two of his famous artworks — “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income,” featuring kroner and euro banknotes stuck to a canvas, which aimed to depict the average annual income of a person in these countries.

He instead turned in two empty frames — which the museum exhibited that same year.

The museum then asked the artist to return the sum paid. However, Haaning refused, and consequently, the Kunsten Museum took him to court, the Guardian reported.

“There have been a lot of people saying that I’m a naive director and it’s a misuse of public and private money,” Lasse Andersson, the director of the Kunsten Museum, told Insider’s Mia Jankowicz at the time.

At the time, Andersson had said that his museum was “not wealthy” and that Haaning’s actions left the museum’s curators deeply upset.

The artist had told DR in 2021 that “Take the Money and Run” was inspired by what he saw as insufficient payment — he claimed that recreating the pieces as intended would have required him to fork out around 3,300 euros, or around $3,500 today, from his own pocket.

“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 added.

The art world is no stranger to controversy around high-concept pieces that satirize money.  

English artist Banksy made headlines in 2018 for creating a painting that shredded itself after being sold at an auction for $1.4 million. The artwork was again sold for $25 million in 2021.

And Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan once sold an artwork featuring fresh bananas he taped onto a wall for $120,000. When the piece was displayed in Seoul in 2023, a student filmed himself peeling it off the wall and eating it — before telling a local news outlet his act could be considered art in itself.

Haaning and the Kunsten Museum did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider, sent outside regular business hours.

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