Dan Flavin, “The diagonal of May 25, 1963” (1963) (image from artnet.com)

If it looks like lighting, smells like lighting and lights things up, it’s probably lighting! At least so says the European Commission in an argument over whether or not the work of Dan Flavin and Bill Viola qualify as art. They don’t think so, and express their criticisms in a series of hilarious quotes.

Felix Salmon has the story: overturning a ruling in 2008 that Flavin and Viola’s work was indeed art, and thus only qualified for a 5% import tax, the European Commission has decided that the two artists’ work must be taxed at a higher rate as industrial material with a 20% value added tax, because it’s not art. It’s just lighting:

The work by Flavin is described as having “the characteristics of lighting fittings… and is therefore to be classified… as wall lighting fittings.”

On the other hand, the European Commission’s problem with Bill Viola is more conceptual in nature. The video screen and sound installation can’t qualify as art because only the light and soundwaves the equipment broadcasts constitute the “art”:

[The Viola] cannot be classified as a sculpture “as it is not the installation that constitutes a ‘work of art’ but the result of the operations (the light effect) carried out by it.”

What does this say about Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ lightbulb strings? And Sol Lewitt’s works, that’s basically just ink and paper, right? We’ll have to tax the concept separately. Be sure to check out Salmon’s post for some added commentary on the silliness of the whole thing and the possibility that the ruling might be difficult to overturn.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

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