Nobody Knows Art Like Customs Inspectors

“The definition of art is not something that anyone would lightly undertake. Nor would it normally be left to a US customs official to decide. But that is exactly what happened in October 1926,” when an extraordinary legal battle erupted over a Constantin Brancusi statue being brought into the U.S. “The point was that ordinary merchandise was subject to duty at 40 per cent, while art was not. And the customs official on duty at the time happened to be an amateur sculptor – just the sort of person to have bumptiously confident views about matters aesthetic. He took one look at the Brancusis, concluded that they weren’t art, and levied $4,000 duty.”