Fisk University’s board of trustees has agreed in principle to share ownership of its prized Alfred Stieglitz Collection with the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas in exchange for $30 million, the two sides announced on Tuesday.
The agreement, subject to approval by a chancery court judge, would entitle the university and the museum to display the 101 works in the collection for equal amounts of time, they said. Crystal Bridges is scheduled to open in Bentonville, Ark., in 2009.
The founder of Crystal Bridges, the Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton, also pledged $1 million to renovate and maintain the Fisk gallery that houses the collection and to finance an art internship.
The board’s vote on Monday, which came after more than a year of litigation over the fate of the artworks, could help remedy Fisk’s financial problems, the university’s board said.
“This settlement represents a great opportunity for Fisk to emerge from this lengthy and complicated process on the strongest financial footing that we have been on in decades,” Reynaldo P. Glover, the board chairman, said in a statement.
Still, the fate of the art-sharing agreement is far from certain. The Tennessee attorney general, Robert E. Cooper Jr., who has a say because the collection was a charitable donation, must still weigh in; he has said he would prefer that the collection remain full time in Nashville, where Fisk is based.
Georgia O’Keeffe, widow of the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, gave 97 of the pieces in the Stieglitz Collection to Fisk in 1949, and donated more several years later. Other works from Stieglitz’s enormous collection went to institutions including the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Fisk sought court permission in late 2005 to sell two works from the collection — “Radiator Building — Night, New York,” a striking Precisionist canvas from 1927, by O’Keeffe, and Marsden Hartley’s “Painting No. 3” — to boost the university’s sagging endowment.
But the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., which functions as O’Keeffe’s estate, filed suit to block the sale, arguing that Fisk was violating its agreement with O’Keeffe to maintain the collection. In a proposed legal settlement this year the museum agreed to buy “Radiator Building” for $7.5 million, and allow Fisk to sell the Hartley work.
While that settlement was pending, Crystal Bridges made its $30 million offer to share the collection. Citing the value of that bid, a chancery court judge rejected Fisk’s settlement with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum this month, saying it was not advantageous to the people of Tennessee. Then the O’Keeffe Museum dropped its suit, saying it did not want to pose further difficulties for the university.
In her ruling the chancery court judge, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, made clear that she considered the Crystal Bridges offer to be superior to the settlement.
But the latest deal could renew debate in the case over what is best for Fisk and for Tennesseans, who would have diminished access to the collection under the proposal, some experts in art law suggest.
“If you step back, and your test is what’s in the best interest of the people of the State of Tennessee, I don’t see how you do this without putting it up for bid,” said Donn Zaretsky, a lawyer in New York who specializes in art law. “That’s the only way to know for sure.”
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum had previously pledged to oppose the deal. But on Tuesday the president of the museum’s board, Saul Cohen, appeared to soften that stance, saying that Crystal Bridges had sweetened its original overture with the addition of the internship and the $1 million renovation.
Read the entire article in the New York Times.