A Kafka Art Story Involving an Oil Painting and an Eagle

Sometimes, inheriting a piece of art can cause you lots of trouble.

NY Times brings a catch-22 story about the heirs of a NY art dealer who inherited a 1959 work by Rauschenberg called “Canyon“.

The story goes like this: Because the work includes a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection, it is a crime to sell it. So, what’s the value for tax purposes? Well, it’s illegal to sell it, so they heirs claim it is worth $0. And what about the US tax authorities? Well, it is a masterpiece by a famous painter, so they appraised it at $65 million and demand a $29 million estate tax payment.

My recommendation on solving this:

Option 1:
Sell only the Canvas part of the painting for $65 million, in a “buy canvas, get free eagle” deal. And there you have it – you sell the painting with the eagle, in a fully legal way.

Option 2:
Cut the painting in two (including the eagle), send it to the IRS. Claim that you overpaid your taxes (estate tax is 45%), and demand the 5% back in cash. You just cost the IRS ~$3M in tax returns. FTW.

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