IRS quest ends as family gives away art work featuring illegal bald eagle

posted at 2:41 pm on December 3, 2012 by Mary Katharine Ham

Allahpundit wrote about this outrageous story in July. “They want their money even if you don’t get yours.”

The gist: The federal government hounded a family over a modern work of art for years because it featured a stuffed bald eagle. The eagle was killed and stuffed long before a 1940 law that outlawed its killing, but the law then made the sale of such an eagle illegal. The work of art—”Canyon” by Robert Rauschenberg— therefore became technically worth zero. Several knowlegdable appraisers agreed, leaving the family with no tax liability for a work of art they couldn’t legally sell. The IRS disagreed, sending them first a $29 million tax bill plus a $11.2 million penalty for allegedly “undervaluing” the art.

Canyon “Canyon” by Robert Rauschenberg

“Canyon” was part of an inherited art collection on which the heirs had already paid hundreds of millions in estate taxes by selling many works of art. Now, “Canyon” has been donated to the Museum of Modern Art, with no charitable deduction taken. That was the only option available to them to escape the IRS bill, but as Eric Gibson’s account suggests in the Wall Street Journal, I’m not sure the government would have stopped after getting $29 million.

Only in the fantasy bazaar of the U.S. government’s imagination can an item that is worthless carry a multimillion-dollar price tag.

Ms. Sundell and Mr. Homem had another option: donate “Canyon” to a museum. But since they were declaring that it had no value, they would have to forfeit the charitable deductions that normally accrue to individuals in such cases. In the end, this is what they chose to do. “Canyon,” which had been on extended loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, now joins five other Rauschenberg combines at MoMA. In exchange, the government has dropped its $40 million-plus claim against Sonnabend’s estate.

“Canyon” had, in fact, been in the feds’ sights long before this particular debacle. According to a New York Times story last summer, in the early 1980s the combine had caught the attention of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which tried to seize it from Sonnabend.

A deal was struck allowing her to keep possession as long as the work remained on public display. The issue resurfaced a few years later. In 1988, Rauschenberg himself had to submit a notarized letter stating that the eagle had been killed and stuffed by one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders long before the 1940 law went into effect.

Gibson also wonders what future public policies and bans— Hello, Bloomberg!— might do to the value of works of art “like Damien Hirst’s ‘Cremation,’ one of four ‘ashtray sculptures’ the artist made in the late 1990s and described on his website as composed of ‘. . . cigarettes, cigarette packaging, tobacco packaging, cigarette papers, matches . . . and ash,’” possibly casting it and others like it into “market limbo.”

Certainly, this high-profile incident, and the estate taxes required to keep any inherited artwork, are enough to make some collectors and benefactors think twice about investing in art, which is a shame. Cue the liberals: That’s why NEA funding it so vital! Nice how this racket works, huh?

The silver lining: “Canyon” has found a home in the Museum of Modern Art, which is run by a private non-profit and “eschews government funding.” You can donate to MoMA, here. I’d like to see it at least stay there, instead of ending up in the IRS lobby one day. The eagle is the agency’s symbol, after all.

Exit question (Allahpundit™): Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

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They should have burned it right in front of the IRS’ office.

LincolntheHun on December 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM

Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

Please! This is the IRS we’re talking about: No.

Browncoatone on December 3, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

People should take these eagles and make art out of them so people become aware of what this government green energy lunacy has wrought.

besser tot als rot on December 3, 2012 at 2:45 PM

They couldn’t argue that some smears, a dead bird and a pair of truck nuts is only worth about $3.65?

forest on December 3, 2012 at 2:47 PM

And these same people are going to enforce Obamacare. I feel like I am living in a time warp or bizarro world.

retiredeagle on December 3, 2012 at 2:49 PM

And now they’re in charge of your healthcare billing.

Have a nice day.

Skywise on December 3, 2012 at 2:50 PM

Now that it’s in the MoMA, I bet it’s considered an art treasure.

Liam on December 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM

It was illegal to kill Lincoln, too. Does that mean the IRS is going to seize all the profits from the film?

IndieDogg on December 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM

Scum hiding behind the law of the land .

EnglishRogue on December 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM

Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

People should take these eagles and make art out of them so people become aware of what this government green energy lunacy has wrought.

besser tot als rot on December 3, 2012 at 2:45 PM

I like it.

Mary Katharine Ham on December 3, 2012 at 2:52 PM

And these same people are going to enforce Obamacare. I feel like I am living in a time warp or bizarro world.

retiredeagle on December 3, 2012 at 2:49 PM

…you are!…since 2008.

KOOLAID2 on December 3, 2012 at 2:52 PM

Why in the world hasn’t the irs gone whole hog after buffett and the taxes he owes? IIRC, he has spent million and years trying to see to it he doesn’t pay those taxes? And I just looked, buffett owes over 1B!

I will answer my question, he is foto’s and they get better treatment! Afterall, buffetts secretary pays more than he does is the spin!
L

letget on December 3, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Things like this not only add to the massive deficit of my “faith in government” account, but also to my faith in humanity” account.

There are just no words to describe the lunacy going on here.

Gatsu on December 3, 2012 at 2:55 PM

I look at the bright side. At least the IRS is giving equal treatment to right and left wingers.

Shy Guy on December 3, 2012 at 2:55 PM

What a stupid land she has become.

The very top stinks and so does most of the fish.

Schadenfreude on December 3, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Things like this not only add to the massive deficit of my “faith in government” account, but also to my faith in humanity” account.

There are just no words to describe the lunacy going on here.

Gatsu on December 3, 2012 at 2:55 PM

Fools rule

Schadenfreude on December 3, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Don’t forget, you will soon have to show the IRS your health records…

Seven Percent Solution on December 3, 2012 at 3:02 PM

That’s why I support a variation of the fair-tax which would allow us to abolish the IRS. I’m not talking about pie in the sky: up here in Washington State we do not have an income tax like many states, we pay a sales tax instead. Our government gets funded without a huge, corrupt, unnecessary bureaucracy lording over us, invading our private business.

We have a successful US model that has worked in my state all my life, it’s time to implement it nationally and do away with government intrusion in our personal finances. It would increase efficiency of the nation by getting rid of the corruption of our tax code and corrupt bureaucratic bodies while restoring our financial privacy. It is win/win, so why not do it?

I’ll tell you why: because our corrupt government profits from selling tax-code favors to their cronies, favors that benefit them financially and hinder or shut-out their competition and is the only way our crooked politicians can win reelection. The crooks at the top do not want a fair-tax, because it really is fair and just and thus would bring an end to the corruption that they benefit from to the detriment of the American people.

FloatingRock on December 3, 2012 at 3:05 PM

The ‘burn it in front of the IRS office’ suggestion beat me to it: I was thinking exactly that, while reading the article.
What, might I ask is going to incentivize people to work and save, going forward? Perhaps that is precisely the idea: Abandon All Hope, greedy Kulaks, and let Holy Mother Government make the decisions for you.
I mourn my nation.

orangemtl on December 3, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Exit question (Allahpundit™): Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

Probably not but stuffing him might have been a lot trickier.

Cindy Munford on December 3, 2012 at 3:07 PM

They should have burned it right in front of the IRS’ office.

LincolntheHun on December 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM

Better make sure they get the proper permits first! They’ll probably need a fire permit and a public demonstration permit, at least.

FloatingRock on December 3, 2012 at 3:08 PM

What if the eagle had been shot by government-sponsored hunters since it infringed on the nesting grounds of the spotted owl?

Rufus on December 3, 2012 at 3:09 PM

Don’t forget, you will soon have to show the IRS your health records…

Seven Percent Solution on December 3, 2012 at 3:02 PM

That will result in lot of new additions to the sex crime registries after all those people moon the IRS.

chemman on December 3, 2012 at 3:09 PM

The IRS’s symbol should be a vulture not an eagle. A vulture picking at the carcass of the once free land.

The “resistance” flag could be a field of white with an IRS Vulture crossed out in red and the words “Don’t Pick on Me” below.

Lily on December 3, 2012 at 3:10 PM

We has overcome and we is arrived now.

Fools rule the circus.

Schadenfreude on December 3, 2012 at 3:11 PM

FloatingRock on December 3, 2012 at 3:05 PM

I agree. The problem with the federal government is that they eventually want both a national sales tax and an income tax.

chemman on December 3, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Kabuki Patriotism from the Ocommie administration.

Ain’t that rich.

FlaMurph on December 3, 2012 at 3:15 PM

The symbolism in this entire story of what our country has become is the true value of this work of art.

Ellis on December 3, 2012 at 3:18 PM

They couldn’t argue that some smears, a dead bird and a pair of truck nuts is only worth about $3.65?

forest on December 3, 2012 at 2:47 PM

I was thinking exactly the same thing.

Curmudgeon on December 3, 2012 at 3:19 PM

And these same people are going to enforce Obamacare. I feel like I am living in a time warp or bizarro world.

retiredeagle on December 3, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Hmm. I feel like I’m living in the 1770s and it’s pretty much time to start shooting and hanging tyrants.

rayra on December 3, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Dear IRS. Come and collect, but first let me introduce you to the Second Amendment.

Warner Todd Huston on December 3, 2012 at 3:23 PM

They should have burned it right in front of the IRS’ office.

LincolntheHun on December 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM

Yeah right. This is the IRS and Holder’s DOJ.

The entire family would have been charged with genocide, hate crimes, and terrorism and thrown into Gitmo.

CorporatePiggy on December 3, 2012 at 3:24 PM

It’s been said before…”you can’t make this @@@@ up.

And to think we are going to puts these idiots in charge of “Our” healthcare.

alas, woe is me.

DiabloAzure on December 3, 2012 at 3:25 PM

BUCK FARACK

Nutstuyu on December 3, 2012 at 3:26 PM

The silver lining is that the IRS vampires will be equal opportunists when it comes to sucking the life blood of Americans under Obamacare…on 2nd thought the liberals will enjoy all those taxes, control, & magnifying glasses to their medical records. Hey, we’ll finally get transparency….our medical conditions for all to see.

Belle on December 3, 2012 at 3:27 PM

I guess the government solved all the real problems if they have time for this.

Chuck Schick on December 3, 2012 at 3:28 PM

What a mess. One question I have however is, where did Robert Rauschenberg get the eagle in the first place? ‘CANYON’ was created in 1959, long after the 1940 law banning the sale of the eagle; did Rauschenberg (who was part Cherokee, by the way) buy / inherit / find / kill the eagle in this work? Perhaps the eagle could have been removed and donated or destroyed and the rest of the work sold for a few millions bucks.

Pork-Chop on December 3, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Fools rule

Schadenfreude on December 3, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Indeed. That is offensive on so many levels…

Gatsu on December 3, 2012 at 3:29 PM

They should have burned it right in front of the IRS’ office.

LincolntheHun on December 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM

My very first thought also.

Instead of at the IRS office, make a YouTube video so everyone can be offended.

BobMbx on December 3, 2012 at 3:29 PM

I agree. The problem with the federal government is that they eventually want both a national sales tax and an income tax.

chemman on December 3, 2012 at 3:12 PM

A 100% tax rate on everything wouldn’t be enough either.

BobMbx on December 3, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Welcome to 21st century America: government by thievery.

RebeccaH on December 3, 2012 at 3:35 PM

Until you are the target of an over zealous IRS agent, you would never be able to comprehend the absolute obsessions they have, and how disruptive it can be.

It happened to me and for just 9 months they ruthlessly pursued me and the fines and fees piled up rapidily…of course since I won and owed them nothing, I couldn’t charge them any fees or penalties for making my and my families life a living h3ll for 9 months.

The comment from the IRS agent who lost? “There are plenty more like you who don’t have the where with all to fight us.” And they were right, I happened to have had a very powerful advocate come to my aide, without him, I would have been forced, just from the pure muscle and power that the IRS put forth…no one person can stand up to the IRS once they decide you are a target…no one person has enough power, money, time, influence to win, even if you are in the right.

right2bright on December 3, 2012 at 3:36 PM

They should have burned it right in front of the IRS’ office.

LincolntheHun on December 3, 2012 at 2:44 PM

I sure there are many laws about touching even dead endangered animals. Over here in MA you can’t even touch the road kill if it’s an endangered or protected animal. A few years ago a guy got busted for having a hawk feather he found on the ground hanging from a wind chime. He didn’t even know it was from a hawk. He just thought it was nice looking.

Frank Enstine on December 3, 2012 at 3:39 PM

The IRS’s symbol should be a vulture not an eagle. A vulture picking at the carcass of the once free land.

The “resistance” flag could be a field of white with an IRS Vulture crossed out in red and the words “Don’t Pick on Me” below.

Lily on December 3, 2012 at 3:10 PM

I’ll probably get virtually tarred and feathered for this comment, but here goes: Don’t blame the IRS; blame Congress. The IRS is merely carrying out the byzantine tax code enacted by Congress one itty, bitty rule and/or exception at a time. Yes, the IRS is a massive pain in the butt, but it is required by Congress to be exactly that. Examples such as this farce are why the entire US tax code needs to be scrapped, and a Fair Tax or some other simplified, exemption free system of taxation be implemented. As so many Hot Air participants have commented in the past: the only reason Congress and the President refuse to do what they were actually elected to do is because there is wa-a-a-ay too much lobbyist money washing through the system. If a Senator or a Representative or the President himself were unable to create or twist law in favor of this, that or the other lobbyist’s client, then the money goes away, and the elected official is left high and dry the next election cycle. (Not to mention that their high-paying post-service lobbying jo0bs vanish into thin air.)

catsandbooks on December 3, 2012 at 3:43 PM

I sure there are many laws about touching even dead endangered animals. Over here in MA you can’t even touch the road kill if it’s an endangered or protected animal. A few years ago a guy got busted for having a hawk feather he found on the ground hanging from a wind chime. He didn’t even know it was from a hawk. He just thought it was nice looking.

Frank Enstine on December 3, 2012 at 3:39 PM

Not just endangered animals– migratory birds,including songbirds, and most raptors. You can’t even take an old bird nest out of tree to show your kids without a permit, unless maybe it’s from an introduced species or a crop pest. We have red shouldered hawks hunting in our “yard”, and we’ve picked up some of the feathers they drop, but it’s very illegal to do that.

juliesa on December 3, 2012 at 3:54 PM

Isn’t it more than a bit odd to go this nuts over a picture of a dead eagle? Was the artist sentenced to prison? How about the taxidermist? These little tin horn bureaucrats have way way to much time on their hands. They probably couldn’t help a citizen file a short form.

Cindy Munford on December 3, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Dear IRS. Come and collect, but first let me introduce you to the Second Amendment.

Warner Todd Huston on December 3, 2012 at 3:23 PM

You sayin’ y’alls gonna shoot revenuers?

The Rogue Tomato on December 3, 2012 at 3:57 PM

I’ll tell you why: because our corrupt government profits from selling tax-code favors to their cronies, favors that benefit them financially and hinder or shut-out their competition and is the only way our crooked politicians can win reelection. The crooks at the top do not want a fair-tax, because it really is fair and just and thus would bring an end to the corruption that they benefit from to the detriment of the American people.

FloatingRock on December 3, 2012 at 3:05 PM

I live in Washington State as well and I agree completely. A “Fair Tax” is the only way. Everyone has skin in the game and no one can evade it. VAT is evil and invisible; Income Taxes are privacy rape. Sales tax is the only way to get everyone to pay attention. After the fall, a sales tax and import duties should be the only thing left. Jefferson ran the Country with no internal taxes whatsoever.

Bulletchaser on December 3, 2012 at 3:57 PM

I look at the bright side. At least the IRS is giving equal treatment to right and left wingers.

Shy Guy on December 3, 2012 at 2:55 PM

ok thats just plain awesome :)

dmacleo on December 3, 2012 at 4:08 PM

Jakson Pollock’s paintings… which I consider a complete fraud but regardless, often had cigarette ash in them. He’d smoke as he painted and would drop ashes onto the painting.

JellyToast on December 3, 2012 at 4:23 PM

The work of art—”Canyon” by Robert Rauschenberg— therefore became technically worth zero.

It’s Tina Korbe all over again.

Dante on December 3, 2012 at 4:26 PM

It was illegal to kill Lincoln, too. Does that mean the IRS is going to seize all the profits from the film?

IndieDogg on December 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM

Unfortunately it didn’t happen four years earlier.

Dante on December 3, 2012 at 4:30 PM

The IRS’s symbol should be a vulture not an eagle. A vulture picking at the carcass of the once free land.

Right, a Turkey Vulture.

Yojimbo on December 3, 2012 at 4:38 PM

I would’ve sold it on the black market, then report it stolen. Can you say “plausible deniability”?

RMCS_USN on December 3, 2012 at 4:40 PM

I sure there are many laws about touching even dead endangered animals. Over here in MA you can’t even touch the road kill if it’s an endangered or protected animal. A few years ago a guy got busted for having a hawk feather he found on the ground hanging from a wind chime. He didn’t even know it was from a hawk. He just thought it was nice looking.

Frank Enstine on December 3, 2012 at 3:39 PM

Not just endangered animals– migratory birds,including songbirds, and most raptors. You can’t even take an old bird nest out of tree to show your kids without a permit, unless maybe it’s from an introduced species or a crop pest. We have red shouldered hawks hunting in our “yard”, and we’ve picked up some of the feathers they drop, but it’s very illegal to do that.

juliesa on December 3, 2012 at 3:54 PM

Its worse than you think.

BobMbx on December 3, 2012 at 4:45 PM

Then, of course, there’s this little goody.

BobMbx on December 3, 2012 at 4:49 PM

If you didn’t vote for Romney you have zero right to dissent. The totalitarians are in complete control, and DON’T expect Obama to leave office; and DON’T expect the regime to step aside. THIS is the new America, and it disgusts me.

bob77 on December 3, 2012 at 4:56 PM

Sell it on the black market, hopefully it goes outside the U.S. Then report it stolen. Can you say “plausible deniability”?

RMCS_USN on December 3, 2012 at 5:06 PM

If you didn’t vote for Romney you have zero right to dissent. The totalitarians are in complete control, and DON’T expect Obama to leave office; and DON’T expect the regime to step aside. THIS is the new America, and it disgusts me.

bob77 on December 3, 2012 at 4:56 PM

On the contrary, you have every right to dissent. Even moreso than those who voted for Romney The Statist.

Dante on December 3, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

People should take these eagles and make art out of them so people become aware of what this government green energy lunacy has wrought.

besser tot als rot on December 3, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Brilliant. I love it.

Dear IRS. Come and collect, but first let me introduce you to the Second Amendment.

Warner Todd Huston on December 3, 2012 at 3:23 PM

I’ve enjoyed reading every comment in this thread except for this one. What the **** is your problem? Leave that crap to militia/hate sites where you likely belong.

You should be banned for boasting about your intent to arm yourself against federal employees.

Capitalist Hog on December 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM

If you didn’t vote for Romney you have zero right to dissent

What do you think your vote is? It’s the best way to express one’s dissent.

Do you really believe that those with whom you disagree have “no right to dissent?”

A certain liberal-fascist with bowl-cut agrees.

Capitalist Hog on December 3, 2012 at 5:16 PM

IRS quest ends as family gives away art work featuring illegal bald eagle

I thought the word illegal was no longer used. Shouldn’t that be “undocumented Bald Eagle.”

Oh, and come to think of it. I find that “Bald” description offensive. It should be called an “undocumented folically challenged eagle”

Oh, and Eagle. We gotta get rid of that word: It is a political ‘dog whistle’ hearkening back to the days of an unenlightened hegemonic USA with an ever expanding empire. So that headline needs to become “Undocumented, folically challenged, raptor of the Accipitridae family’.

And I hope that bird wasn’t killed for the piece of ‘art’.

Hopefully it got just got sick and died….

Oh wait. Now I understand. it was an ill eagle. Not an illegal eagle.

Nevermind.

/EmilyLitella

LegendHasIt on December 3, 2012 at 5:30 PM

And now they’re in charge of your healthcare billing.

Have a nice day.

Skywise on December 3, 2012 at 2:50 PM

Not really. They are in charge of letting you know how much they decided to debit from one of your financial accounts after the fact.

slickwillie2001 on December 3, 2012 at 5:41 PM

Would the owners have gone unharassed if the bald eagle had met its death by windmill?

People should take these eagles and make art out of them so people become aware of what this government green energy lunacy has wrought.

besser tot als rot on December 3, 2012 at 2:45 PM

.
I like it.

Mary Katharine Ham on December 3, 2012 at 2:52 PM

.
Dittos.

listens2glenn on December 3, 2012 at 6:08 PM

Maybe the constitutional amendment granting the Federal Government power to arrest people for possession of bird feathers should be repealed.

Axe on December 3, 2012 at 6:17 PM

The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced. ~Frank Zappa

Fallon on December 3, 2012 at 6:39 PM

I’m not talking about pie in the sky: up here in Washington State we do not have an income tax like many states, we pay a sales tax instead. Our government gets funded without a huge, corrupt, unnecessary bureaucracy lording over us, invading our private business.

FloatingRock on December 3, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Yeah, because WA state isn’t insane about collecting their sales taxes and use taxes at all. WA state goes after anyone buying or selling in Oregon but residing/delivering to WA. Oregon taxes WA residents who work in Oregon (but can’t vote in Oregon either so taxation without representation). WA will decide what the value of your car is when you register it with their DMV, no matter what you paid for it. Its all an insane game that screws over the average citizen.

At least I can show my Oregon drivers license and get out of their sales tax when I’m up there.

oryguncon on December 3, 2012 at 7:14 PM

You should be banned for boasting about your intent to arm yourself against federal employees.

Capitalist Hog on December 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM

What do you think the purpose of the 2nd Amendment is?

Dante on December 3, 2012 at 7:28 PM

And it’s still a lousy piece of artwork.

profitsbeard on December 3, 2012 at 9:18 PM

we have plenty of eagles in north florida. they eat the cats. Not that that is a bad thing…

tlynch001 on December 3, 2012 at 9:37 PM

The eagle is the agency’s symbol, after all.

A dead eagle would be entirely appropriate for the blood suckers.

ironked on December 4, 2012 at 8:33 AM