Robert RauschenbergTuesday, January 7, 2014
Late artist’s trustees seeking million in fees
Before he died in 2008, pop artist Robert Rauschenberg asked three of his closest friends to oversee his US$600 million estate.
In a lawsuit that has dragged on for years with Rauschenberg’s family and charitable foundation, those friends are asking for US$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 a Florida court on March 31.
At issue is whether the US$60 million in fees 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.
Rauschenberg died in 2008 at the age of 82. The artist 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 1960s, he began incorporating photographs into his art — memorably, pictures of John F. Kennedy. After his death, Rauschenberg’s works soared in value.
Rauschenberg was also an avid philanthropist. In his will, he stated that all of his assets should go into a trust and that the primary beneficiary was the 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 US$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.”
The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation suggested the trustees be paid hourly, but two experts hired by the three men said trust administration fees based on hourly wages weren’t reasonable.
One expert hired by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation said the trustees’ fee request is “unconscionable.”
Laird Lile, a probate and trust attorney, said in a May 16, 2013, court document that his analysis showed that the three trustees have paid themselves $5.7 million in fees from the trust — a sum Lile called “grossly disproportionate” to the services required of them.
There was no fee agreement between the trustees and the foundation. And the trustees did not keep records of their time served, Lile said.
“Our goal in this matter is to ensure that my dad’s legacy is protected and that the foundation he created can succeed and make an impact,” Rauschenberg’s son, Christopher Rauschenberg, who is chairman of the board of trustees for the foundation, said in a statement.