Use Tax

Many collectors will spend most of today, figuring out what to bring to this week's huge art fair in Basel, Switzerland.

Aside from a light jacket for cool evenings -- and really comfortable walking shoes for the cavernous Messe Platz exhibition hall -- you may want to decide upon your negotiating currency.

After you determine that your living room must have that shiney red Anish Kapoor sculpture, the discussion usually entails whether the settlement will be in Swiss Francs, Euros, or Dollars. Indeed, for those of us getting there by way of Heathrow, a wallet-full of British Pounds can come in handy. The next conversation involves shipping.

This year, the currencies are in a state of perilous flux -- a common topic of cocktail conversation, after everyone is done admiring your Kapoor.

Last June, American collectors got crushed with Euro rates at an annual high of $1.43. This coming week, art-loving Yanks can breath easier with a more forgiving level of $1.24.

If you believe that paying for your artwork in greenbacks can make your purchase more affordable, remember that although the American Feds do not charge an import duty on artworks, many states have instituted the dreaded "use tax".

Municipalities everywhere are strapped for cash, and well-heeled collectors are always a good source of shake-down money.

Most states now have revenue agents at all the airports identifying items of value, and assessing the recipients with a tax equivalent to sales tax, which resides between 7 and 9%. What's more, the tax bill usually comes two years after the date of entry with accrued interest and penalties.

This year's advice : pay in dollars and schlep the work home in a roller board of dirty underwear. Your Kapoor and your wallet will thank you.

Itinerantly Yours,