Step one: Take money. Step two: Run | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (October 6, 2023, 2:43 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Aalborg, Denmark. Shakespeare meets Seinfeld. Art or not art: that is the question.

In 2021 the Kunsten museum in Aalborg commissioned artist Jens Haaning to submit a painting for its upcoming exhibition on labour conditions titled, “Work it Out.” Haaning was paid almost 500,000 Danish Kroner or about US$70,000 in cash for his efforts. For this sum he submitted two empty canvases. Nothing on them. Nada. He titled them, “Take the Money and Run.” In short, he submitted a painting about nothing. The District Court of Copenhagen recently found that there was something rotten in the state of Aalborg. It ordered J.H. to return the cash. The artist is appealing.

Actually the court did let him keep some of the money, namely the sum of 25,000 Kroner or $3,900 for his “labour in creating the artwork.” I’d say that’s not too bad. After all how much time does it take to head out to your local art supply store and buy two frames? No lawyer I can think of earns that much per hour.

The court also let him keep 40,000 Kr. or about $5,700 for his fee as, get this, the museum actually displayed his empty frames for about four months. I would say this constitutes clear and unequivocal condonation. I can just imagine the museum curator and staff discussing what to do once they opened the packaging and found the empty frames. 

CURATOR: Hey Anderson, what is this? I don’t recall ordering anything from Michael’s.

ANDERSON: I believe this is Jens Haaning’s submission for the exhibition. Maybe there is some artistic value here? Let’s look closely.

LARSEN: There might be. I saw an exhibition in Canada recently of the Group of Seven paintings. One of these white canvases definitely resembles a painting by J.E.H. MacDonald of a winter scene in Muskoka.  

CURATOR: I thought it looked familiar. Actually I thought that was his winter scene just east of Sault St. Marie. Do you suppose most patrons here in Aalborg visiting the exhibition will notice that?

ANDERSON: It’s chancy. Then again the exhibition starts tomorrow. Too late to do anything now. I say we post them both. And maybe to pique visitor interest we can mount a plaque next to the other one saying, “Can you spot the polar bear?”

CURATOR: Sounds good to me. And then we’ll call our lawyer after the exhibition ends. That’s a lot of cash to pay J.H. for a lookalike J.E.H.

And speaking of lawyers I wonder how the artist’s lawyer will get paid? I certainly would not touch this one on a contingency basis. If the lawyer is lax in getting paid, he may end up with Haaning giving him a blank cheque. I mean a totally blank cheque literally, nothing written on it.

Will the artist be successful in his appeal? He claims he did produce a work of art. Who’s to say?

However, I do not share his optimism. I think he should leave well enough alone and just take the money and run.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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