(The Art Newspaper – Pierre Valentin)
The fact that the European Commission can, without any public consultation or publicity, overrule the decision of two national tribunals, makes a mockery of the judicial process.
On 11 August 2010, the European Commission decided that a video installation should be classified as “DVD players and projectors”, and a light installation as “light fittings” when imported into the European Union.
The two works, Hall of Whispers, 1995, by Bill Viola and Six Alternating Cool White/Warm White Fluorescent Lights Vertical and Centred, 1973, by Dan Flavin, had been the subject of a dispute between Haunch of Venison, the contemporary art gallery, and the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in 2006. HMRC had sought to classify these installations not as works of art but as projectors and light fittings. This meant that instead of applying the reduced rate of value added tax of 5%, it applied the then standard rate of 17.5%, and customs duty of 3.7%. Extraordinarily, it sought to apply these taxes not on the value of the components but on the market value of the works.
The dispute over Hall of Whispers was eventually superseded by a dispute over six other works by Viola, which eventually went before a VAT tribunal in London. In its judgment in December 2008 it decided that Viola’s and Flavin’s installations were sculptures and should have been taxed at the reduced rate of VAT and not attracted customs duty. HMRC did not appeal the decision. There the matter should have rested. Read more here.
Date: January 22, 2011