Robert Rauschenberg’s famous artwork ‘Canyon’ is the centre or legal skirmish thanks to its rather unusual component – a stuffed bald eagle
The controversy began when Christie’s and other outlets deemed that the presence of the bird made the artwork impossible to sell: two federal laws bar possessing or trafficking in bald eagles, dead or alive.
However, the International Revenue Service ignored this valuation of $0, and taxed its owners – the estate of legendary dealer Ileana Sonnabend – according to a valuation of a massive $65 million! It justified its actions on the rationale that frequently applies tax to stolen or illegal goods based on black market value. With this addition, the Sonnabend tax bill reached an almighty.
But now the Sonnabend estate is suing the IRS in tax court, and are willing to ‘take it all the way’, given that they estate could never sell such an iconic piece on the black market, and has no plans to try. The IRS have already struck back claiming the existence of a ready market for the artwork – ‘for example, a recluse billionaire in China might want to buy it and hide it.’
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