The children of New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, have run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) due to a piece of art they’ve inherited. The objetd’art is “Canyon,” a masterwork of
20th-century art created by Robert Rauschenberg, and inherited by Mrs. Sonnabend’s children when she died in 2007.
“Canyon,” is a sculptural combine, which includes a stuffed bald eagle. The bald eagle is a bird of prey under federal protection, and the heirs would be committing a felony if they ever tried to sell the artwork. And thus the conundrum.
Due to the potential felony charges if sold, art appraisers have valued the the piece at $0.00. The IRS however, never wanting a serious crisis to go to waste, has appraised “Canyon” at $65 million and is demanding that Mrs. Sonnabend’s children pay $29.2 million in taxes.
Lawyers looking at the case are baffled at the IRS’s valuation given that it is illegal to sell the artwork. The family is challenging the judgment in tax court and their lawyers are negotiating with the I.R.S. in the hope of finding a resolution.