NEW YORK, May 18 -- The U.S. Customs Service announced Thursday that for the first time it will sell a major work of art when it auctions a historic Salvador Dali painting seized from a Colombian drug trafficking ring. Michael Sheehan, a spokesman for the service, said the 1972 'Self Portrait,' reportedly valued at $500,000, will be put up for sale June 1 at the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, Fla., and until then will be on display at the museum. 'It is the first time of the Customs Service has had such an arrangement with a museum of fine art but it seems appropriate for the service's first sale of a seized masterpiece in its history,' Sheehan said. The agency's Miami office said the mixed-media work was seized Dec. 7, 1993, when it arrived in Miami from Colombia, 'because it had been purchased with the proceeds of illegal drug sales.' It had been sent by known Colombian drug traffickers to associates in Florida for sale at an auction, and the proceeds were to be sent back to Colombia, a form of money laundering, authorities said. Sheehan said the painting had been obtained by the drug traffickers from a collector in Barcelona, Spain. He said the service went through forfeiture proceedings but no one came forward to claim the painting. He said proceeds from the June 1 auction will go to the Treasury Department to finance anti-crime programs. The painting, despite its title, was described as a photo montage of the face of Marilyn Monroe superimposed on a bust of Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese Communist leader.
Dali's face with its fierce moustaches is seen in the background, along with a melting clock, an ant, and a vulture. The work was based on a Vogue magazine cover that Dali created for the 1971 Christmas issue, using a photo of Monroe by the famous photographer Philippe Halsman. A Dali associate said the artist was inspired by the burgeoning friendship between the United States and China. Sheehan refused to confirm a reported professional estimate valuing the painting at $500,000, saying the minimum price still is under consideration. The sale will be handled by EG&G Dynatrend of Burlington, Mass., and Larry Latham Auctioneers of Bradenton, Fla. Potential buyers will be required to deposit $25,000 in cashier's checks, returnable to the unsuccessful bidders. Dali died in Spain in 1989 at age 84. He told associates that he had a copy of 'Self Portrait' delivered to Mao Tse-tung when President Richard Nixon made one of his trips to China.