Bald eagle in Rauschenberg’s ‘Canyon’ causes tax troubles for ownersThe Art Dossier on July 23, 2012 with 0 Comments
Heirs of the New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend may pay up to $29.2 million in taxes for Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon from 1959.
The work is exemplary of Rauschenberg’s “Combines” where he combined both painting with non-traditional objects and in this particular case the non-traditional object is a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection. Since it is a felony to sell the work, appraisers valued the work at zero dollars but the I.R.S. has put a $65 million price tag on the masterpiece.
For Sonnabend to even keep the work all these years, Rauschenberg had to send a statement verifying that the bald eagle was killed and stuffed long before the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was enforced. Sonnabend also had to agree to exhibit the work at a museum in order to retain ownership (the work is on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The I.R.S. declined to comment when asked how they arrived at the $65 million price tag but some speculate they might have used the black market to determine the market value.
At the moment, tax experts note that the I.R.S.’s stance puts the heirs in a bind: If they don’t pay, they would be guilty of violating federal tax laws, but if they try to sell “Canyon” to zero-out their bill, they could go to jail for violating eagle protection laws.
To further complicate things according to the family lawyer, since the heirs declare that the work has no dollar value, they are not allow to claim a deduction if they donate the work. If they lose their fight, there is a possibility they still have to pay $40.9 million in taxes and penalties.
To read the original story by Patricia Cohen, please visit: www.nytimes.com