Take the money and run: Haaning’s artwork for the Aalborg Museum
It must be because of the pandemic, which has put a large part of the world’s population into misery. It must be that the artists, between cancelled or postponed exhibitions, fugitive collectors and lack of income, belong to one of the most penalized categories. It must be that, at times, poverty sharpens the wit. It has to be said that Danish artist Jens Haaning has come up with a solution to make some money.
Let’s start from the beginning. He agreed with the Kunsten Museum in Aalborg - a pleasant town ranked the happiest in Europe in 2016 - to create an artwork for the “Work it out” exhibition. The subject of the exhibition is social justice and injustice, art/ work relationships. He had designed for the occasion I took their money, a canvas on which he planned to paste 534,000 Danish crowns, equal to 72,000 euros, to highlight the average per capita income in Hamlet’s homeland. He had the institution advance him the entire sum in cash (They obviously do not have the mortifying limit of 1,000 euros as we do in Italy).
The money arrives punctually and so do temptations. We imagine him counting and recounting the banknotes, thinking about what he could do with all that money, which after all would be like spitting in the face of fortune, immolating the little nest egg to the sacred fire of art. Besides, the Dane, son of a land where Protestantism reigns, will have assimilated its cardinal principles, such as considering money a sign of divine benevolence rather than, in Catholic terms, the devil’s dung. Therefore, it is better not to antagonize Luther and his great grandchildren, just in case.
In a flash of genius, he changes the title of the installation into Take the Money and Run and acts accordingly. He hands the incredulous manager of Kunsten, Lasse Andersen, a blank canvas. And what happened to the 534,000 kronor? “This is the performance, dear director,” he replies, and keeps all of the stolen money. This Arsenio Lupin of art doesn’t want to hear about giving it back. No negotiations with the museum’s lawyers. In an interview on the radio he stands his ground by exhorting his colleagues, who according to him are being exploited by the system, to do the same. Is it theft? Not at all, let them report it.
For the unshakable Haaning what was presented illustrates the imbalance in the distribution of goods in contemporary society, so it is more than pertinent to the theme of the project. Of course, the Kafkaesque-style affair brings a smile to the face, surprises and angers lovers of pure art. However, beyond emotional reactions and moral considerations, the facts remain: an unacknowledged artist and an unknown museum have suddenly made international headlines thanks to a brilliant stunt.
It may not be true glory, but in today’s world it sure is something. It’s a lot, indeed.