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Europe Rules: Art Isn’t Art, Just the Thing It Looks Like


12.16.10 Marina Galperina

The European Commission in Belgium has ruled that these installations by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola are not art, so in 2011, the British customs office can charge 20% value-added tax instead of 5% when they’re imported to galleries. That makes for some damn expensive lamps!

The European Commission said that Flavin’s work has “the characteristics of lighting fittings… and is therefore to be classified… as wall lighting fittings.” Oh, good. Aesthetics are no longer a priority of the art world, since bureaucrats are finally handling that “what is art” question, so we all don’t have to argue about it. This takes the fun out of things, but sure makes it all easy! Damien Hirst’s bisected cow? Just livestock. Duchamp’s urinal? Vintage bathroom fixture. Pretty much all paintings ever made? Housewares and decorations.

Even more flip is their take on Viola’s projection installation, wherein they decide what part of an artwork is art: “It is not the installation that constitutes a ‘work of art’ but the result of the operations (the light effect) carried out by it.” So, unless it’s assembled and ON, it’s not art. The Haunch of Venison gallery should have been importing the whole room.

The ruling affects everyone, unless you carry your art carved on your stomach.