A New York strip club is making headlines with a valiant attempt to avoid paying a rather large tax bill.
The club, named Nite Moves, advertises itself as 'the only gentleman's club in Albany with fully nude private dancers' and is being charged back taxes of between US$125,000 and US$400,000 according to differing sources. But it argued in court this week that its dancers' performances are an art form, and as such the club should be tax exempt. New York state law does indeed exempt revenue from 'dramatical [and] musical arts performances' from tax. But does lap- and pole-dancing qualify?
The law, when asked to define art (often for tax purposes), frequently struggles and sometimes finds itself behind the times. Famously, when Brancusi's bronze Bird in Space was imported into the USA in 1928, it was initially deemed not an artwork but a utilitarian object and 40% import duty was charged on the value of the bronze. As a sculpture it could have been freely imported. However, 'sculpture' was defined for import purposes as representing something real, while Bird in Space was abstract: it didn't actually look like a bird. More recently the EU has held that full VAT (rather than the reduced rate for artworks) was chargeable on works by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola when they were imported into the UK. As the pieces' components were light bulbs, video equipment and other such materials, the EU felt they couldn't be deemed 'art'.
|Brancusi's Bird in Space|
The court in the Nite Moves case does not have an enviable task in trying to answer the unanswerable question: What is art? So far as exotic dancing goes, the jury is still out. A decision is expected next month.
Read more in the Huffington Post, the Telegraph and the BBC News.