The Norwegian finance minister Siv Jensen has stepped in to resolve a row between the artist Bjarne Melgaard and customs officials who had detained 16 of his paintings because they were not considered works of art, so were subject to VAT. The total amount being sought was NKr 1.3m (£123,000).
“We've been struggling with this problem for three months now,” says Gard Eiklid, whose Oslo gallery Rod Bianco represents Melgaard. “It's been an absurd fight where we had to ‘prove’ that Melgaard’s paintings are art,” he says.
The works were being sent from Melgaard’s studio in New York to the gallery in Oslo when they were detained at Gardermoen Airport. The dispute centred on the categorisation of the works as paintings, as according to the regulations they must be “executed entirely by hand”.
“Customs argued that part of the painting is printed, and therefore must be a printed object similar to a poster,” Eiklid says. Melgaard told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet earlier this month that it was “absolutely insane” that officials with no artistic experience could determine what is or is not art.
The works were finally released yesterday (16 November) after the intervention of Jensen, who told The Art Newspaper: “I am pleased to inform you that the Bjarne Melgaard paintings are assessed as art and therefore applicable for the VAT-exemption. This is due to new legislation put into effect as from 15 November.”
Melgaard is one of Norway’s best-known artists. His works are held in public collections and he has had major exhibitions at the Munch Museum and the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.