Late artist's trustees seeking $60 million in fees

By Tamara Lush

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 6 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Friday, May 19, 2006, file photo, artist Robert Rauschenberg smiles during the opening night gala of "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Los Angeles. Before he died in 2008, pop artist Rauschenberg asked three of his closest friends to oversee his $600 million estate. Now those friends are asking a Florida probate court for trustees fees, $60 million in fees, to be exact.

Ann Johansson, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CAPTIVA ISLAND, Fla. — Before he died in 2008, pop artist Robert Rauschenberg asked three of his closest friends to oversee his $600 million estate.

In a lawsuit that has dragged on for years with Rauschenberg's family and charitable foundation, those friends are asking for $60 million in fees as compensation for administering the trust. The case will likely go to trial this year; a hearing will be held in Lee County court on March 31.

At issue is whether the $60 million in fees requested by the trustees is the "reasonable fee" allowed by Florida law.

"Bob Rauschenberg believed the trustees he chose were trustworthy friends who understood that the Rauschenberg Foundation was to be Bob's crowning achievement and legacy," said Robert Goldman, the attorney for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. "The trustees' demand for $60 million that would otherwise belong to the foundation is a monstrous affront to Bob's testamentary intent and is not a reasonable trustees' fee under Florida law."

Rauschenberg spent the last days of his life at his 35-acre waterfront compound on Captiva, an exclusive and tropical Gulf Coast island.

He died on May 12, 2008, of heart and lung failure, at the age of 82.

The artist, who also had a home in New York City, was famous for his use of odd and everyday articles in his paintings, and his unusual style earned him fame as a pioneer in pop art, along with Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. In the 1950s, Rauschenberg created his "White Paintings," modular panels which appear at first to be a blank white canvas. He is also known for his "Combines," which are free-standing, mixed media works.

In the 1960s, he began incorporating photographs into his art — memorably, pictures of John F. Kennedy. He won a 1984 Grammy Award for best album package for the Talking Heads album "Speaking in Tongues."

After his death, Rauschenberg's works soared in value. In 2010, one of his "Combine" works — which had been owned by the late author Michael Crichton — sold for $11 million at a Christie's auction in New York.

Rauschenberg was also an avid philanthropist, and while alive he gave money to children's charities and environmental causes. In his will, he stated that all of his assets should go into a trust — which was overseen by his friends, the three trustees — and that the primary beneficiary of the trust was the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which would manage the art and continue to support charities and emerging artists.

"Based upon the increased value of the Rauschenberg art, the Trustees estimate the current value of the Trust assets to exceed $2 billion," wrote the attorney for the three trustees in a court document dated March 14, 2012.

The trustees are Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg's assistant and companion; Bill Goldston, who was partners with Rauschenberg in an art printing company; and Bennet Grutman, the artist's accountant.

Attorneys for the trustees couldn't be reached for comment. But court documents show that the trustees believe they are deserving of the fees because "they have provided extraordinary services that have greatly enhanced the value of the Trust assets," including reintroducing Rauschenberg's artwork to the market in a "prudent manner and under a comprehensive plan, resulting in an increase in value and public appreciation."

The trustees also said they had to deal with copyright issues and analyze complex federal and state tax laws.

The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation suggested the trustees be paid hourly, and two experts hired by the three men said that trust administration fees based on hourly wages weren't reasonable.

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