The Eagle Has Landed: Sonnebend Estate Tax Snafu Settled

Bullet Shih Nov, 2012 0
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Robert Rauschenberg Canyon 1959 at MOMAThis year we posted about a conundrum involving the estate of legendary dealer Ileana Sonnabend and the IRS.  The controversy involved the 1959 work Canyon by Robert Rauschenberg.  The IRS was claiming that the painting/assemblage was worth $65 million and was looking for taxes based on that amount.  The Sonnebend estate countered that the painting was worthless due to the fact that work contained an actual bald eagle which according to the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act passed in 1940 and amended in 1962 made it illegal to sell the work, thereby said the heirs, rendering it worthless.  Well, it seems that the estate has finally managed to find a solution which involved donating the work to MOMA where it now is prominently displayed on the 4th floor.  The New York Times describes an actual competition between the Met and MOMA for work with the Sonnebend heirs finally opting for MOMA as Canyon‘s nesting place,

MoMA made a concerted effort to woo the work’s owners, the children of the New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, who died in 2007. Mr. Lowry said it agreed to add their mother’s name to the Founders Wall in the lobby of the museum (which was established in 1929, when Ms. Sonnabend was 15), and to devote an entire show to “Canyon” and Ms. Sonnabend, an important figure who helped introduce and nurture modernist artists.

Robert Rauschenberg Canyon 1959 at MOMA

While a name on the wall is a nice gesture, the piece also goes on to say that the heirs saved themselves from a $41 million tax bill on a work that they could never sell.

 

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