Leading Article: Monet, money and the envy of our neighbours

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The Independent Culture
THE WORST aspect of the English is their distrust of success. The worst aspect of Brussels is their desire to tax anything that is a success.

Both expressions of envy are on display in the art world at the moment. In London, the tidal wave of bookings for the Monet exhibitions has been greeted not just with joy from the public but with a whine from the aesthetes, claiming it to be a populist sham pandering to the taste for pretty pictures.

In Brussels, meanwhile, a committee is to discuss imposing 2 per cent tax on the resale of an artist's work, to go to the artist or his or her estate, on top of the rise in the VAT on imported art works that is to come into force this summer.

Brussels should be resisted and the British aesthetes ignored. London is at the moment the art capital of Europe, and arguably the world. It sells more art because its dealing costs are considerably lower than on the Continent (hence Paris's desire to see it loaded with more taxes). But it is also the art capital because there is a real sense of buzz and public involvement here.

The art galleries of east London are already being succeeded by a new generation setting up in south London around the Tate's contemporary art premises at Bankside. The success of the Monet show might be held discouraging if it were an excuse for the public to reject modern art in a welter of nostalgic prettiness. But it isn't. In fact there is as much enthusiasm, in relative terms, for the London Contemporary Arts Fair opening today as there is for the portraits by Ingres opening next week.

Whether it is "great" art, we can leave to posterity. What we can celebrate, and defend, is a public that throngs to see art in a city that knows how to promote it, good and bad.

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