1 JUNE 1991, Page 25

Art for VAT's sake

Sir: Your piece on 'how modern painters can still save the world' (Another voice, 27 April) raised the topic of contemporary art in a pugnacious manner. Auberon Waugh praised the beauty of the capitalist system because it enables the rich to spend thousands on 'hideous rubbish'. So where lies the justification for policy adopted by both Conservative and Labour administra- tions spanning the last 16 years, which shows such a marked prejudice against contemporary artists?

The problem stems from our Customs regulations, whereby a dead artist's work, imported into the United Kingdom, is chargeable for VAT only on the margin between its purchase price and the selling price, whereas a living artist's work im- ported in the same way will be subject to VAT at 15 per cent on top of the selling price. In addition to this, a deposit of 10 per cent on the value of the work, refund- able (without interest) after six weeks, is also payable on importation. In other words, the tax levied on a living artist's work is roughly three times that levied on a dead artist's work.

As a member of the European Par- liamentary Committee for Culture, I am ' particularly disturbed to find that the United Kingdom is unique in this discri- mination against our own living artists. Perhaps with the backing of contemporary art enthusiasts like Mr Waugh, who bring this subject into the limelight, we might persuade the Arts and Libraries Ministry to be more sympathetic; until now, sugges- tions for change have fallen on deaf ears. I look forward to the day when our contem- porary art can rightfully compete on an equal footing with that of the other 11 Community countries.

Patricia Rawlings,

2 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1