Four years ago, top-shelf gallery Haunch of Venison (which has locations in New York, Berlin and London) imported six video installations by Bill Viola and a light piece by Dan Flavin into London, only to have the artworks taxed by British customs not at the art tax rate of five percent, but at the standard rate applied to most imports (which is set to jump to twenty percent next year). The gallery appealed the decision and won, but the European Commission has just reversed the decision and sided with British customs, leading to some worrisome implications and completely baffling terminology.
The best-meaning-worst part, as The Art Newspaper reports, is that according to the EC ruling Viola and Flavin’s work isn’t really, like, actual art. Rather, it has ““the characteristics of lighting fittings… and is therefore to be classified… as wall lighting fittings.” Not only that, but because the EC governs, as the name implies, all of Europe and not just the UK, this decision applies to the taxation of every piece by Viola, Flavin, and other lighting designers masquerading as artists whose works are going into Europe. Insane as this decision may seem (and it absolutely is insane), it’s also completely in keeping with the British government’s current stance on arts taxing and funding. Other artists presumably at risk of having their brightly lit work over-taxed include Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Pipilotti Rist.