He Who Does Not Pay Tax

April 30, 2010

That was the title of Rafael Coronel's tax payment to the Mexican government in 1980 (the title has been translated from Spanish: "El que no paga impuestos"). In Mexico, artists can choose to pay their taxes with artwork instead of cash. USA Today has the story here:

There's a sliding scale: If you sell five artworks in a year, you must give the government one. Sell 21 pieces, the government gets six. A 10-member jury of artists ensures that no one tries to unload junk.

Under the program, the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit now owns 4,248 paintings, sculptures, engravings and photographs by Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Leonora Carrington and other masters.

The government displays these treasures in Mexican museums and government offices and, increasingly, loans them out for special exhibitions around the world. Other works are stored in a huge, climate-controlled warehouse in Mexico City.[…]

Some of the art is explicit, but no matter.

"There's no censorship here," says Julieta Ruiz, a curator at the museum.

If anything, the temptation to needle the taxman makes the art even edgier, she says.

Rafael Coronel's 1980 tax payment is a portrait called He Who Doesn't Pay Taxes. A painting that Fabian Ugalde contributed in 2002 declares in huge letters, "The authorities have still not determined whether it was an act of aggression or just another piece of art."

All the art is posted on this website. To view "El que no paga impuestos" click on "Colecciones Pago En Especie" on the left, choose 1980 from the drop down list and click "Buscar."

In kind tax payments are not currently an option in the United States, but maybe with the economic downturn Congress will consider such an arrangement. The Mexican program does not accept musical compositions but a US version could. As an amateur musician I would love to be able to pay my tax bill in the form of a groovy bass line crafted for the common good. But I'm not holding my breath.

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