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Import & Export of cultural goods

The Importation of Video and Light Installations

The Customs Information Paper introducing changes to the temporary removal of goods from Customs Warehousing (see the article on this blog on Changes to the UK Bonded Warehousing Regime) refers to a previous Customs Information Paper (Ref: (10) 44 effective 18 June 2010).  The Annex to that Customs Information Paper seeks to clarify certain procedures for the importation of works of art and antiques for display at galleries, fairs and exhibitions.

The second paragraph of the Annex reads: “Some art works currently being imported into the UK are described as “art installations” or “light installations”.  These typically include some form of audio visual presentations or light display and current practice was to classify these installations according to their constituent parts and not as “art” in Chapter 97 of the Tariff”.  This is a reference to HMRC’s inept argument that a video installation (e.g. by artist Bill Viola) or a light installation (e.g. by artist Dan Flavin) cannot be imported in the UK as an artwork simply because it is disassembled and crated for shipping.  The fact that these art pieces are imported packed in boxes means, so argues HMRC, that they must be taxed as light bulbs, video screens and electric wires, because this is how these artworks appear to HMRC officials when they are wheeled through Customs.  The sub-text is that HMRC officials are so devoid of natural intelligence that they cannot make the difference between an artwork by a world-famous artist (even when it is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist) and a bunch of wires.  Tax should be levied, HMRC go on to say, at the rate applied to electrical and video apparatus, i.e. currently 20% instead of 5% for works of art.  Customs duty should be levied too, as it applies to electrical and video equipment, not to works of art.  This might have been mildly ridiculous, had HMRC not also argued that the higher rate of tax and duty should be applied not on the retail value of the electrical or video equipment (a few hundred pounds) but on the value declared by the importer being the value of an artwork by the artist (typically several hundred thousand pounds).Read More »The Importation of Video and Light Installations