‘It’s a Threat to the French Artistic Scene’: JR, Ugo Rondinone, and More Than 100 Other Artists Decry an E.U. Sales Tax Hike on Art

Without a cultural exception for art, the VAT on work sold in France will increase four-fold.

Artist Zineb Sedira, who represented France at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Some 120 artists have voiced their opposition to a controversial new European Union tax directive that would raise the sales tax on works of art from 15 to 20 percent, saying it will greatly harm the French art market.

Zineb Sedira, France’s representative at last year’s Venice Biennale, is among the signatories of an op-ed in the French newspaper Le Monde denouncing the regulatory change, along with Ugo Rondinone, JR, Daniel Buren, Orlan, Annette Messager, Gérard Garouste, and Julian Charrière.

“Some will no doubt be surprised to see artists take up the pen on the occasion of such a measure. It is because this directive, if it is transcribed as such into French law, is a threat to the French artistic scene,” the signatories wrote. (ARTnews first reported on the op-ed in English.)

The E.U.’s 27 member states approved the directive in April 2022, and it is slated to go into effect in 2025.

The Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris, France, Feb. 16, 2023. Photo by Gao Jing/Xinhua via Getty Images.

The Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris, France, February 16, 2023. Photo by Gao Jing/Xinhua via Getty Images.

The directive would put an end to the “cultural exception” that some artworks in France currently enjoy when it comes to value-added tax, or VAT. Now, artworks being imported or sold by the artist for the first time are taxed at a reduced rate of 5.5 percent for the initial sale, with the full VAT only applying during resale.

France’s art dealers association, the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’art (CPGA), plans to lobby the government for an exception to the new directive for art sales.

Having to pay the full VAT at all times could cripple the country’s art market, which has flourished in recent years. The nation’s share in global art sales rose from 3 percent in 2001 to 7 percent in 2021—though French art sales declined by 2 percent in 2022. Major dealers such as David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth have opened galleries in Paris, and as of last year the city is the newest home to an edition of the Art Basel empire, Paris+.

“Culture needs to circulate, to be shared in order to shine in France, in Europe and in the world,” the artists wrote in Le Monde. “At a time when all the great powers are implementing powerful strategies of cultural soft power, how is it that Europe and our country, the one that invented the cultural exception, are giving up their wealth?”

Currently, French dealers and collectors enjoy the E.U.’s lowest import tax for art and antiquities, at just 5.5 percent. (In comparison, Germany’s is 19 percent and Spain’s is 21 percent.) Should a 20 percent VAT for all art sale go into effect, France could lose some of its market share to countries like the U.S., Switzerland, Hong Kong, and the U.K.

“It is indeed an entire ecosystem that is in danger,” the op-ed warned. “The multiplication of this VAT by four would discourage any purchase of works in France, and thereby their circulation and ultimately their presence in Europe and France.”

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