It is illegal in the US to possess or traffic in live or dead specimens of the bald eagle, the national emblem. A stuffed one is part of ‘Canyon’, a 1959 work by Robert Rauschenberg, owned by art dealer Ileana Sonnabend until her death in 2007. After a visit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, she obtained a permit both to own the work and to lend it to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. After Sonnabend’s death, her heirs sold works from her collection in order to pay federal and New York estate taxes of $471 million.
The Internal Revenue Service says the Rauschenberg is worth $65 million, based on the $71.7-million price of Andy Warhol’s ‘Car Crash’. Sonnabend’s estate has sued the IRS, arguing that the value is $0, there being no legal market for the piece; selling it to pay the tax bill could put the executors in prison. The IRS takes the position that the valuation should be determined according to what the work would sell for on the black market, suggesting that a hypothetical Chinese billionaire might be willing to buy it secretly.