Review: ‘Art’

In September 2021, artist Jens Haaning delivered two blank canvasses to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.  Haaning was given approximately $70,000 in Danish Kroner to recreate works he had made a decade earlier that used real money to show the average annual income for workers in Austria and Denmark.  Instead, Haaning kept the money and submitted the blank canvasses as an original new work titled, Take the Money and Run.  “I will go so far to say that the piece is that I have taken the money,” Haaning told the New York Times. “The two empty frames is actually a representation of the concept. So more important than the absence of money is that I’ve taken the money.”

According to the Kunsten, “Haaning’s new work Take the Money and Run is [] a recognition that works of art, despite intentions to the contrary, are part of a capitalist system that values ​​a work based on some arbitrary conditions. The valuation of art can be about the name of an artist, which gallery the artist is affiliated with and what art collections the work is a part of.”  After displaying the canvasses in its gallery from September through January 2022, the Kunsten sued Haaning for $70,000 to recover the cash.

Art has a way of forcing us to examine our values: how do we decide whether a work is a masterpiece or a scam?  What does it say when two people look at a piece and see completely, diametrically different things?  What would it do to your psyche if someone you thought was your best friend held the opposing viewpoint?  Could any friendship survive such a chasm?  Yasmina Reza explores this question in the hilarious and moving Art,’ now showing at the Guthrie through January 28, 2024.

After Serge purchases a white abstract painting for an absurd amount of money, his friends Marc and Yvan react in different ways, setting off a sequence of arguments that probes the basis of the men’s friendship and their very identities.  It doesn’t take long for the debate to escalate/descend into an existential examination of how we define ourselves in the face of our relationships, and what happens if our friends don’t see us the way we thought they did.

A lively, humorous, and fast-moving production, Reza’s script is ably handled by director Kimberly Senior and a dynamic trio of talented actors. What could have been a dour, plodding tour of psychological ruminations is anything but.  Just over 90 minutes with no intermission, it’s a great play to see with a friend.

Photo by Dan Norman