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Pine man still unsure of tax burden for Picasso prize won in online drawing

| Sunday, May 4, 2014, 10:50 p.m.
heidi murrin | tribune-review
Jeffrey Gonano of Pine holds a replica of a Picasso painting that he won last year. The painting is entitled 'Man With Opera Hat' Saturday, May 3, 2014.

If Jeff Gonano wants a private showing of a painting by Pablo Picasso, he can call the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland.

Gonano has clout. He owns the artwork.

“I can't really just store the painting in my house,” Gonano, 26, of Pine said of the Picasso, which could be worth as much as $1 million.

Gonano made international headlines last year when he won the painting, titled “L'Homme au Gibus” (“Man with Opera Hat”), in an online drawing. He purchased one of 50,000 tickets for 100 euros, about $138, to raise funds for the International Association to Save Tyre, a biblical city about 100 miles south of Beirut.

Gonano is unsure what he's going to do with the painting.

One looming question is how much he'll have to pay in taxes. The answer will depend on an appraisal.

Gonano, who enlisted the help of a lawyer and an accountant to help with the financial dealings, said he's waiting for appraisals. So far, estimates of the value start around $600,000.

If he keeps the painting, Gonano said, he'll have to pay taxes next year. If the painting were valued at $1 million, that could mean a tax bill of about $365,000, according to estimates made when he won the drawing.

“I know I'm going to have to pay, but I'm not sure how,” Gonano said. “I'm not sorry I entered the drawing. It really hasn't affected my life much. If there is a thing with the taxes, it's not going to be pleasant.”

The painting, about 12 by 9 inches, bears the late artist's signature in its upper right corner and dates to 1914. It's known as an opaque gouache painting because of the type of watercolors Picasso used.

The piece arrived at the Carnegie in February. Gonano said his first reaction to seeing his prize was shock.

“It was cool holding something that exactly 100 years ago, Picasso painted. It may have been to the month,” he said.

Museum spokesman Jonathan Gaugler said the museum is storing, but not displaying, the artwork. By July, Gonano said, the painting will be off to New York, where famed auction house Christie's has agreed to store it at no cost.

Concept Art Gallery in Regent Square made a replica for Gonano to display in his home.

“He can feel comfortable having this in his house without having to worry about the risk of having an extremely valuable watercolor in his home,” gallery owner Sam Berkovitz said.

Berkovitz said he was skeptical at first when Gonano sought help with the painting, including an appraisal.

“I don't really have too many 20-year-olds that show up with artworks that are worth in the six-figure-plus range,” Berkovitz said.

The painting is a Picasso, he said.

No matter what he does with the painting, Berkovitz added, Gonano has a story of a lifetime.

“It's the real deal,” Berkovitz said. “He has a legitimate and highly valuable artwork.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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