When the children of a well-known art collector inherited Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon, they thought they were getting a priceless work of art by one of the world’s most famous artists. Turns out, they were getting a problem.
Rauschenberg is best known for his “combine” paintings, combining painting, sculpture, and found objects. Canyon contains buttons, photographs, and a rope attached to a pillow. It also contains a stuffed and painted bald eagle.
According to the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act, it is illegal to possess or sell any bald eagle, alive or dead. If the new owners try and sell the work, they could face a minimum one-year jail sentence. Because the work cannot be sold legally, art appraisers have valued it at zero dollars.
Even though it can’t be sold, the new owners still have to pay taxes on the inheritance. Government appraisers have valued the piece at $65 million, making the tax bill a whopping $29 million.
The owners claim they should not have to pay taxes on a work of art they can’t sell. The government claims that the owners owe the money regardless of their ability to sell the work. What do you think? Should the owners have to pay the tax bill on a work of art they can never sell?