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Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Canyon, 1959. Combine painting. 86 . x 70 x 24 in. Sonnabend Collection, New York.
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Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
Priceless or Worthless?
This piece is by a famous artist. But if the owners sell it, they could go to jail.

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?


I think that the owners should still pay for their art because its theirs and it was in their family. They should have to live with it.
Posted by: Sydney J. | October 19, 2012 at 2:15 PM
Class comments-they should find a logical wy to get rid of the painting; No! you don't pay tax on junk!; Donate the work of art to a local art museum-taked the tax right off to balance out taxes, let IRS take the work of art;Can't you just take mthe eagle off the work of art?
Posted by: Rams . | October 19, 2012 at 2:18 PM
Ridiculous, of course the owners should not have to pay the tax bill on this famous work of art! "Government appraisers", and the government itself seem to have turned into buzzards!Somebody needs to take another look at the insane law, Bald Eagle Protection Act.....dead eagles really don't need to be protected anymore;now do they????!!!!!
Posted by: Donna B. | October 19, 2012 at 2:19 PM
Sounds like the government is, once again, taking money they don't deserve. NO....I don't think they should have to pay any tax at all, on this painting. Maybe they should just give it away and write it off as a charitable donation....if that is allowed.
Posted by: Jennifer S. | October 19, 2012 at 2:19 PM
Could they avoid the taxes by donating the artwork to a museum?
Posted by: Karen C. | October 19, 2012 at 2:19 PM
If the artwork cannot be sold, the value is zero dollars so there should not be any taxes owed. The government is not being fair to the artist's children. They are the ones that say it is illegal to sell so they should not tax someone for owning it.
Posted by: Cheryl S. | October 19, 2012 at 2:19 PM
Could they not donate it to a museum?
Posted by: Tonya M. | October 19, 2012 at 2:20 PM
I think the painting is worthless.
Posted by: Dick P. | October 19, 2012 at 2:20 PM
I believe that the owners should not be required to pay taxes. They never bought it, only inherited it. The piece is priceless, but in this circumstance, it is considered worthless.
Posted by: Niall H. | October 19, 2012 at 2:20 PM
This piece is a great piece of art yet the owners should have to pay taxes because their just like any other americans and can afford it.
Posted by: super s. | October 19, 2012 at 2:20 PM
I think they should pay for it because it is there art and they inherited it. They should pay because everyone else pays taxes and they should too.
Posted by: Christa H. | October 19, 2012 at 2:21 PM
The value of Rauschenberg's piece in this case can NOT be calculated in dollars, only in its ability to tell the history of the artist and be a testament to his talent. It should be declared a national treasure and the owner's should be thanked for taking care of it for us, not taxed for keeping it. If they donate it to a museum, would the government give them a tax write off?
Posted by: Lori-Ann M. | October 19, 2012 at 2:22 PM
I would try to give it to a museum. Since the art was created befor the law, a judge should allow it to be gifted to an art museum.
Posted by: Linda W. | October 19, 2012 at 2:22 PM
You all have posted such great opinions that we wanted throw another bit of information into the mix: Typically, when someone donates a work of art to a museum, the donor is given a tax deduction. In this case, since the heirs are saying that Canyon is worth $0, there is no deduction to claim on their tax returns. So donating the work of art to a museum won't help them with the taxes and penalties they already owe. Tell us what you think! The Scholastic Art Editors
Posted by: ART E. | October 23, 2012 at 9:43 PM
The law on the possession should be changed so it is not retroactive to artwork or to Native American artifacts or work created prior to the law. At the time it was not illegal when this was made so the owners should not be held responsible for something out of their control. Our environmentalists and politicians may think they are doing something noble and worthy, however given decisions such as this, they obviously did not give any forethought to the ramifications of their actions. The tax situation is just another example of the ridiculous laws passed by our politicians.
Posted by: Deborah W. | October 24, 2012 at 2:12 PM
I agree with Linda W. The art was created before the law and the family should have the right to gift the piece to an art museum. Isn't there such a thing a "grandfathering" to these unusual circumstances?
Posted by: Rain B. | October 24, 2012 at 2:12 PM
I agree that they should not have to pay taxes on a piece they cannot sell. That is a ripoff and it is not right. why should someone have to pay taxes on a piece that they can do nothing with except look at. If anything else they could donate it to a museum.
Posted by: Jonathan H. | November 5, 2012 at 5:49 PM
My advanced art class and I believe that they should NOT have to pay taxes because they didn't buy it, it was handed down to them, they were probably unaware of its value for a period of time.
Posted by: Linda M. | November 5, 2012 at 5:49 PM
If you can't even sell the painting then you shouldn't have to pay for it. But let's say you did sell it, then the person who bought it should pay a SMALL amount of money.
Posted by: Krazy K. | November 5, 2012 at 5:52 PM
They must keep on paying the money. It's their family's precious creation.
Posted by: Mina t. | November 8, 2012 at 2:56 PM
They should not have to pay the taxes because I think that they probably didn't know they were getting it. And another reason is that they can sell it! So if they can sell it why is the government interested in making them pay tax of 29 mil!
Posted by: Lucas S. | November 14, 2012 at 3:23 PM
Think they should just give the painting to the government. Think it is not fair if the have to pay tax for something that's worthless. since they at least have to give something, they should give the painting.
Posted by: Amelia m. | November 15, 2012 at 2:49 PM
IT LOOKS HORRIBLE LIKE A NIGHTMERE COME ALIVE JUST KEEP IT I WOULD NOT WANNA SEE THAT IN A ART MUSEUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by: JESSY J. | January 18, 2013 at 2:48 PM
No, I do not think that the inheritors of the artwork should not have to pay the tax. Considering that the tax is so much and they can't sell it I think that the government just wants their money. If the art cannot be sold then it is worthless and shouldn't be taxed. It is unfair that the inheritors have to pay the taxes if it was unavoidable to get the artwork. All in all it is very unfair to pay the taxes on that artwork.
Posted by: Steven P. | February 26, 2013 at 3:19 PM
The Rauschenberg piece in my opinion is a priceless work of art. No one can say what art actually is, art can be anything. I don't agree with having to pay taxes on art because what is there really to tax? Art is not meant to be taxed it is meant to be enjoyed and discovered.
Posted by: Chelsie T. | February 26, 2013 at 3:19 PM
In what ways does prohibit them from selling a piece of artwork with a bald eagle on it? The bald eagle in an inanimate object that was never living. I can assure you that there has been hundreds of past artworks that have been sold that has had a bald eagle on it. If there has been previous works, then why are they enforcing it on this one? Is it because they don't like it, and want to get rid of it? That could be! If it is, that would be a HORRIBLE reason and I hope it gets sold and re-sold just to prove everyone and rub it in there face.
Posted by: Jordan L. | February 26, 2013 at 3:19 PM
Okay now this is why people say that the government is getting out of hand. One why would you tax inheritance in the first place? Two, Not to be rude but seriously this art work looks like something my brother through in the trash and splashed paint on... SO why is it priced for so much? and my tax a piece of junk? If they can't sell it becuase it has no value then how is it able to be taxed? Sounds like the goverment needs to take a class called common sense... I think the inheretees should fight it and throw that in their face.
Posted by: Kathryn J. | February 27, 2013 at 3:39 PM
The new owners of Rauschenberg’s piece should absolutely not have to pay taxes on this piece of artwork. That is absurd. If the artwork is apparently illegal to sell and is worth nothing in the eyes of many, it does not make sense that the government can tax them on that.
Posted by: Natalie H. | February 27, 2013 at 3:39 PM
I think this is a worthless piece of work because the bald eagle is seen as a symbol of our country. Especially because they painted over the eagle and essentially changed its overall appearance.
Posted by: Tristan L. | February 27, 2013 at 3:39 PM
I do think that the family should be able to sell it because if roshenburg was able to crfeate it with out getinf in troble than let his family do what they want with it.The piece is worth 60 million dollars and thay may have to pay taxes on something like that but it belongs to the family,they did not buy it.
Posted by: kalie e. | February 27, 2013 at 3:40 PM
The art piece "Canyon" was created by the talented Robert Rauschenberg. Art appraisers say that because the artwork is not allowed to be sold it is worthless. I do not agree, just because something is unable to be sold doesn't lessen the value in my opinion. The artwork is still just as value, just in a more ironic way.
Posted by: Valory M. | February 27, 2013 at 3:40 PM
I believe that the people should be allowed to sell the combine even if there is a bald eagle in it. Also if they can't sell it they should not have to pay taxes.
Posted by: jordan J. | February 28, 2013 at 2:39 PM
The art piece "Canyon" is not worthless. I do not think that just because an item or art work is worthless just because you can"t sell it. This is crazy! I mean obviously it has some emotional feelings to the person that made it which is Robert Raushingburg.
Posted by: Alisia S. | March 1, 2013 at 3:11 PM
I think that the government should not tax this painting is it is worth no money! I think that the owners should get rid of it if it will only give them trouble. I think this painting is worthless because it has no money value.
Posted by: Gabe m. | March 5, 2013 at 3:13 PM
i dont think that the family should be forced to keep this and be taxed on it its not fair. no one even knows if he killed the bird illegaly so they shouldnt make it illegal to sell it. they cant do a thing with it they cant sell it or give it away its illegal so i think they are just ripping off the artists family makeing them pay tons of taxes on something they cant make any money to pay for the taxes its bogus
Posted by: Destiny B. | March 11, 2013 at 8:48 PM
I do not think they should have to pay taxes on this piece of art. It isn't even really legal for them to own it. You can't do anything with this piece of art. You can't even throw it in the trash because you will still be taxed for it.
Posted by: Nicholas H. | March 14, 2013 at 2:21 PM
I think they should be able to sell this art work to a different country or to a museum to show to the WORLD! I also think they should not put taxes on the art work because its not fair to the owners.
Posted by: Max B. | March 15, 2013 at 2:22 PM

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