“Canyon” (1959) is a combine created by the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg. This work specifically features wood, fabric, paint, personal photographs, a dangling pillow, no recognizable geological formations and a taxidermy bald eagle. That key ingredient, the taxidermy eagle, is what has caused such a stir in the art/tax world since it places the piece to fall under 2 pieces of federal legislation (Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act) which strictly prohibits the sale or trade of any eagles, eagle carcasses or parts.

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The story really begins to unravel when the owner of the piece, Ileana Sonnabend passed away in 2007 and her heirs appraised the collection, “Canyon” piece included:

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“Because the work, a sculptural combine, includes a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection, the heirs would be committing a felony if they ever tried to sell it. So the appraisers have valued the work at zero.

 But the Internal Revenue Service takes a different view. It has appraised “Canyon” at $65 million and is demanding that the owners pay $29.2 million in taxes…The family is now challenging the judgment in tax court and its lawyers are negotiating with the I.R.S. in the hope of finding a resolution.”

Click here to read more on this catch-22 story (via NY Times).