Artist Steals $84,000 From Modern Art Museum, Calls It Conceptual Art

‘The work is in fact that I have taken their money,’ Artist Jens Haaning says about his conceptual piece protesting bad working conditions in the art world.
People stand in front of an empty frame hung up at the Kunsten Museum in Aalborg, Denmark, on September 28 2021. - The Danish museum loaned an artist $84,000 in cash to recreate old artworks of his using the banknotes, but the boxes he sent only contained blank canvasses and a new title: "Take the Money and Run". Danish artist Jens Haaning had done just that, pocketing the money the Kunsten Museum in the western city of Aalborg had loaned him to reproduce two works that used Danish kroner and euros to represent the annual salary in Denmark and Austria. Image: HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Danish artist Jens Haaning has made off with $84,000 thousand dollars from a modern art museum in Denmark as part of a self-described conceptual artwork titled “Take the Money and Run.” 

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in northern Denmark originally commissioned Haaning to recreate two of his earlier works as part of its “Work It Out” exhibition. The works—which were initially showcased in 2007—consisted of two canvases encased in glass that contained that average income of Denmark and Austria as real banknotes. 


Lasse Andersson, director of the Kunsten museum, told Danish National Broadcaster DR that the museum did lend Haaning 534,000 Danish kroner to recreate the works, but that it had contractually agreed that the money must be returned when the exhibition ends in January 2022. When museum employees opened the two packages from Haaning, however, they were surprised to find two empty glass frames—the $84,000 thousand was nowhere to be found. 

While Andersson said he expected the money would be returned by the end of the exhibition, Haaning seemed to have different ideas. Speaking to radio program P1 Morgen, Haaning said: “No it [the money] does not have to be returned. The work is in fact that I have taken their money.” 

Haaning, who did not immediately respond to an email from Motherboard, said that “Take the Money and Run” is a protest against low wages and working conditions in the art world. According to Haaning, the museum offered to pay him 25,000 Danish krone (~$3,925 dollars) for the two recreated works—the same amount, he claims, it would cost to recreate the works in the first place. In other words, he’d just be breaking even. 

On P1, Haaning also called on other workers to do the same thing he had. 

“I encourage other working people who have conditions as horrible as mine to do the same,” he said. “If you’re working some shitty job and not getting paid—and are in fact actually being asked to pay to work—then grab what you can and beat it.” 

Andersson and the Kunsten museum seem to be taking a cautious, but firm line when discussing the perplexing situation, and have yet to publicly commit to going to the police if Haaning does not return the money. 

“I would give it to Jens [Haaning] that a work of art in its own right has been created, one which comments on the exhibition we are having,” Andersson told DR. “But this is not part of our agreement.” 

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art did not immediately respond to a phone call from Motherboard.