Bird in Space in the New National Gallery in Berlin, Germany. Photo Credit by Dennis Irrgang. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Constantin Brâncuşi was a minimalist avant garde sculptor. When he sent some sculptures for a show in New York in 1927, the US Customs concluded that, despite being made by a well known and famous artist and intended for an art show, it was obviously “not really art” and therefore should be taxed at 10% of its full retail value as “scrap metal”. Of course ignoring the fact that if it really was scrap metal, it would be worth less than a dollar, and have to pay 10 cents in customs duty and not $240 on the $2400 price it was declared at.
So there was a big to-do. Customs never contested it was made by an artist, displayed in art shows, and sold to collectors as art. Instead they argued that, despite all this, it wasn’t art because they didn’t like the way it looked, asserting that the federal government had the right to determine what art would be considered valid.
A review, held in secret and not open to public scrutiny, was held. To support their absurd claims they trotted out unnamed — but undoubtedly failed — artists to play the toady and buttress the position that their obviously false authority could declare legitimate and binding definitions of art rather than being a ridiculous and offensive exercise in mocking both truth and sanity. These “art experts very high up in the art world” told customs that “Dots and dashes are as artistic as Brancusi’s work” and therefore it should be taxed as scrap metal, not art.
Followed was then the court case “Brancusi v. United States” in which a court had to decide what would be ALLOWED to be considered as ART in the UNITED STATES.
In the end the judge ruled that since it was symmetrical and nonfunctional and he personally perceived it as art, therefore it was art. This is regarded by some as a success, however all it really did was further the position that government bureaucrats have the final authority in deciding what art is, who gets to be considered a legitimate sculptor, and who people are deep inside. This ruling is an abomination as is the criminal government that supported it.
More about the case: http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/September-October-2002/story_giry_sepoct2002.msp