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Artist Sold Blank Canvases As Art and Is Now Getting Fined

By Orgesta Tolaj


8 December 2023

blank canvases

©️ Andrew Neel / Unsplash

What can truly be considered art? And isn’t art supposed to be subjective? Art can be life and art can be beauty. But art can also be the ugly and the unexplainable. One thing is for sure, art is a major point of discussion and will always be. While people have different opinions on what art is and can be, we all can agree that selling blank canvases as art is where we should draw the line. And this artist crossed it. In 2021, Haaning made it into the news for selling two blank canvases to the Kunsten Museum.

How One Artist Sold Two Blank Canvases to the Kunsten Museum?

Danish conceptual artist Jens Haaning garnered attention in 2021 when he received 532,000 kroner, equivalent to about $75,000, for an artwork commission. To the surprise and perhaps bewilderment of the museum that had commissioned the piece, Haaning delivered two empty frames bearing the enigmatic title “Take the Money and Run.” Following this unconventional artistic expression, a Copenhagen court has mandated that Haaning refund the entire sum to the museum.

blank canvases at the kunsten museum
© Kunsten Museum

He expressed shock at the court’s decision. However, Haaning conveyed a sense of alignment with the outcome, stating, “I am shocked, but at the same time, it is exactly what I have imagined.”

Why Did the Museum Accept the Blank Canvases?

He is now facing a court order to repay $75,000 to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. However, the Danish artist Jens Haaning disclosed that he currently lacks the financial means to fulfill this obligation. Expressing a sense of ambiguity about navigating this situation, Haaning stated: “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.”

blank canvases at the kunsten museum
© Kunsten Museum

The controversy began in 2021 when the Kunsten Museum commissioned Haaning to recreate two of his acclaimed works. Those were “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income. These pieces typically featured krone and euro banknotes affixed to a canvas. They portrayed the average annual income in Denmark and Austria, respectively. However, instead of delivering the expected pieces, Haaning submitted two empty frames. They were bearing the provocative title “Take the Money and Run.” The museum proceeded to exhibit these unconventional works in the same year.

Subsequently, the Kunsten Museum requested the artist to return the substantial sum they had paid him. Haaning, however, refused to comply with their demand, leading to a legal dispute.

blank canvases
© Kunsten Museum

Other Controversial Artists

Controversial high-concept art pieces that satirize money have been a recurring theme in the art world. In 2018, English artist Banksy made headlines when a painting, sold for $1.4 million, and shredded itself at an auction; it was later resold for approximately $25 million in 2021. Similarly, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan sold an artwork featuring fresh bananas taped onto a wall for $120,000. In 2023, a student filmed himself peeling it off the wall and eating it, suggesting his act could be considered art.

Amidst this backdrop, Danish artist Jens Haaning’s recent controversy with the Kunsten Museum adds another layer to the ongoing dialogue on the intersection of conceptual art, monetary value, and public perception. As of now, Haaning and the Kunsten Museum have not responded to requests for comment.

Do you agree that Haaning should have been sued for the blank canvases?

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Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!