NEW YORK—On Jan. 6, a Tennessee court of appeals heard oral arguments from counsel for Fisk University, Nashville, in which the cash-strapped school asked the court to allow it to revisit a deal under which it would receive $30 million in exchange for selling a 50 percent interest in its Alfred Stieglitz Collection (ANL, 3/18/08).
Fisk is also asking the appeals court to rule that the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, N.Mex., which oversees the artist’s estate, has no legal claim to the Stieglitz collection. In 1949 Georgia O’Keeffe donated the collection, comprising 101 works of modern art, to the school on the condition that it be kept together and kept on permanent display.
If the appeals court rules in favor of Fisk, it will be reversing the decision handed down by a chancery court last March, in which judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that Fisk had breached the conditions of the gift and warned that further infractions could result in forfeiture of the collection to the O’Keeffe Museum.
Lyle also imposed a permanent mandatory injunction that prevents Fisk from selling the collection and set a deadline for Fisk to remove the collection from storage and return it to display. The collection was put back on permanent exhibition in the school’s newly renovated Carl Van Vechten Gallery last October.
Fisk general counsel C. Michael Norton, of Bone McAllester Norton, Nashville, said of last week’s oral arguments, “We think it went well. We spoke for an hour and the court asked questions for an hour and a half.” Norton says they expect to hear from the court within two to six months.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, Fisk would sell a half interest in the Stieglitz collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and scheduled to open in Bentonville, Ark., in 2010.
O’Keeffe Museum president Saul Cohen said the museum would refrain from comment until the court makes its ruling.
Various disputes over Fisk’s efforts to sell either an interest in the collection or individual works from it have continued for more than three years.