That’s the question that lawyers of the heirs of New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend and the IRS are arguing in this Catch-22 case involving artwork by Robert Rauschenberg:
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 their 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.
“It’s hard for me to see how this could be valued this way because it’s illegal to sell it,” said Patti S. Spencer, a lawyer who specializes in trusts and estates but has no role in the case.