Fashionable prank artists | ArtsHub Australia

Last week (September 30), news of Danish artist Jens Haaning went viral when he allegedly “took the money and ran away.”

Global art media picked up on Haaning’s antics, when he delivered two blank canvases to the Kunsten Museum – located in Aalborg, Denmark – which he had been commissioned to create for a new exhibition for an amount of AUD $ 116,106. (534,000 crowns).

Haaning titled the pair of paintings, Take the money and run, pushing the work into an area that many artists have flirted with over time – a social commentary veiled in humor.

Haaning defended himself from keeping the money, issuing the statement: “The work of art is essentially about the working conditions of artists”, the amount representing the annual salary in Denmark and Austria.

In Australia, the average salary for artists is $ 48,400 (according to the 2017 Australian Council Making art), with the median salary for the entire workforce being $ 90,329 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021) – not far from Haaning’s commission fees.

Read: 9 examples of Australian art made in protest

Haaning continued, “This is a statement saying that we also have a responsibility to question the structures of which we are a part. And if these structures are completely unreasonable, we must break with them.


While the tongue-in-cheek action was undoubtedly funny – and a viral treat for social media users – it was also associated with a deeper social message.

The same could be said of a series of actions, or interventions, which date back to the 1960s, including the cans of Piero Manzoni Artist shit posing as an art object – one of which was recently purchased by Tate Modern.

Most of these examples of pranksters attack either the art market or the perceived “value” of contemporary art society. This intersection appears to have intensified over the past five years, with the impact of these works of art being heightened by the ability of social media to go viral in real time.

Bearing in mind that the TikTok and Instagram stories both launched in 2016, this makes sense. The first version were video memes, which became popular when YouTube was released in 2005. However, if we look at what has been happening on our social media since 2016, it’s clear that the prank artist is booming in phase with mistrust and disgust for the art market as a reflection of a sharing of wealth.


Image: Nowthisisnews Instagram feed.

2021: Jens Haaning

As noted above, the Danish artist delivered two blank canvases despite a substantial commission to create a new work, in a commentary on artists’ salaries.

Museum director Lasse Andersson reportedly said that even though he burst into laughter upon receiving the works and still decided to show the blank canvases, the museum expects Haaning to repay the money. “If the money is not returned on January 16 as agreed, we will take the necessary steps to ensure that Jens Haaning lives up to his contract,” Andersson said in a statement.

The Utah Monolith. Courtesy of the Utah Department of Public Safety.

2020: Utah Monolith

Last November, social media went wild when a mysterious mirrored monolith appeared in the Utah Desert in the United States. “Is it a work of art – or the work of aliens?” Wrote Artnet News.

Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) agents observed the object from a helicopter while inspecting the area for cattle. The question of who did it has become the cat in chains – pointing to mid-century minimalist sculptor John McCracken, New Mexico-based artist Petecia Le Fawnhawk, Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly, among others.

While DPS chose not to disclose the location, Reddit miners tracked it down. “They suggested that the object had only been installed since 2015, which would effectively exclude McCracken, who died in 2011,” reported the US news site Artnet.

Where the circle has come full circle in the art market is that within a month, an anonymous collective called the most famous artist claimed the work as theirs and then started selling fac- similes of the monolith for $ 45,000 (edition of three), which comes with a Blockchain Certificate of Authenticity.

2019: Maurizio Cattelan

In 2019, the art world turned banana – literally – when Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan (in collaboration with gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin), unveiled Actor at Art Basel Miami Beach – a fresh banana taped to a wall.

“Created” in an edition of three – two were sold for $ 120,000 (each) – American collectors Billy and Beatrice Cox said of their purchase: “We are well aware of the glaring absurdity that Actor is an otherwise inexpensive and perishable product and a few inches of duct tape. When we saw the public debate around art and our society, we decided to buy it. We knew we were taking a risk, but ultimately we feel that Cattelan’s banana will become an iconic historical object.

And it is undoubtedly the case. Actor has since been donated to the Guggenheim Museum, along with instructions and diagrams for its installation and display.

It was Cattelan’s first work of art for a fair in over 15 years. And to take the prankster’s intervention one step further, performance artist David Datuna ate “the artwork”, calling for the intervention Hungry artist. The banana was replaced later in the day. No legal action has been taken against Datuna.

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2018: Banksy

Banksy’s famous Girl with balloon caught the world’s attention when – immediately after it was sold at Sotheby’s for US $ 1.4 million – the artwork was shredded. The self-destructive article generated 30,000 reports at the time.

And in September of this year, just to cement the love pact of art market pranksters, the same work – now titled Love is in the trash – resold at a Sotheby’s auction for $ 8.3 million, six times its original shredded value.

Read: Banksy and the tradition of destroying art

Installation view of ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ (2017), Punta della Dogana, Venice

2017: Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst took the axis of the prankster art market to a new high in 2017, with his exhibition – or non-exhibition? – Treasures from the Wreck of the Incredible staged through the Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, private museums operated by French billionaire François Pinault, owner of the Christie’s auction house.

He is also a keen collector of Hirst’s work and the co-financier of the exhibition – and this endorsement “in bed” has drawn much criticism. Asked by New York Times reporter Carol Vogel While Pinault was indeed operating his museums for commercial purposes, the collector said, “It’s not commercial. It’s about showing the art that I love. In the same interview, Pinault practically admitted that he had acquired some of Hirst’s new works.

Composed of around 190 works (made by Hirst), the detail of the fictitious discovery of an ancient wreck off the coast of East Africa in 2008. The wreck is attributed to an equally fictitious collector, a freed slave named Cif Amotan II, an anagram of “I am a fiction.” ”

The exhibit is built on the premise that Hirst personally funded the excavation and brought the artefacts to Venice for the public to enjoy. Did Hirst present himself as some sort of Robin Hood in the art market? Jester turned profiteer? According to Vogel’s report, the work of Treasures range from $ 500,000 to $ 5 million and are available in triplicate with two artist proofs.

2013: Doug Fridlund and Mikael Alcock

In 2013, Doug Fridlund and Mikael Alcock turned into “works of art,” standing in a Gerhard Richter exhibit at Tate Modern with ping-pong balls in their mouths. They were dressed in matching outfits – their somewhat convincing “performing artist” prank. It quickly went viral after being uploaded to YouTube.

In an interview with The independent newspaper at the time, the two revealed that their intention was simply to find out “what it was like to be art.” They added that it would also be cool to be sold as art, ideally by Sotheby’s. This does not happen.

1971: Harvey Stromberg

One of the best-known pranks in art history occurred in 1971 when Harvey Stromberg once again staged some sort of intervention at the iconic Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. He pasted around 300 life-size photographs of utilitarian objects – such as bricks, keyholes, and switches – in situ across the gallery.

It became “the museum’s oldest personal exhibition” as it took two years for museum staff to uncover and remove all the photographs.

Piero Manzoni, Artist shit, 1961.

1961: Piero Manzoni

Italian artist Piero Manzoni produced 90 boxes of Artist shit in 1961. A limited edition, each can was numbered on the lid: 001 to 090. The labels read: ‘Artist’s Shit, contents 30gr net freshly preserved, produced and canned in May 1961.’

In keeping with the boom in prankster art, Tate bought # 004 no later than 2000. The first was sold in 1962, for the same price of 30 grams of 18k gold – the clear reference. not lost in Manzoni’s commentary on the art market. It seems that not much has changed between the 1960s and today.

Gina Fairley is the National Visual Arts Editor for ArtsHub. For a decade, she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the regional editor for the Hong Kong-based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing, she worked as an artistic director in America and Australia for 14 years, including in regional galleries, biennials and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina

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