From Iceland — Ragnar Kjartansson's Art Pieces Not Art, According To Directorate Of Customs

Ragnar Kjartansson’s Art Pieces Not Art, According To Directorate Of Customs

Published January 3, 2024

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Following a recent customs ruling, artist Ragnar Kjartansson needs to pay value-added tax for a hundred salt and pepper shakers imported to Iceland.

The artist designed a thousand copies of porcelain salt and pepper shakers intended for his art installations. The objects were emblazoned with the words “Guilt” and “Fear”.

Salt and pepper castors marked with the words "Guilt" and "Fear"

Following his exhibitions, Ragnar decided to break up the pieces into section, intending to sell them. Hundred shakers were sent to Iceland. According to RÚV, Ragnar explained to the customs authority that the items were intended as a part of an art installation.

According to Icelandic customs law, artwork imported by creating artist is exempt from VAT. The artist reasoned such was the case. Each pair of castors is valued at 500 USD.

Reduced taxation

The Directorate of Customs denied Ragnar’s interpretation, arguing that the exemption does not cover mass-produced replicas or regular craft products. According to the authorities, the castors were not original, but manufactured merchandise.

The case was brought to the Internal Revenue Board in December, which ruled in favour of the Directorate of Customs. Ragnar must then pay the VAT of his import, although the original charge was reduced to represent the production cost as opposed to the sale price.

This isn’t the first time the Directorate faces the problematic task of taxing artwork. In 2014, artist Ólafur Arnalds was gifted a painting from a friend, which got confiscated by the tax authorities due to a lack of concrete value.

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