NEW YORK—Ending a six-year-long saga, the Tennessee Supreme Court refused an appeal from the state’s attorney general, Robert Cooper, to overturn an appellate court ruling that would permit the Nashville-based Fisk University to sell a 50 percent stake in a 101-piece art collection, donated by artist Georgia O’Keeffe to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
That half-share of the collection will amount to $30 million, which the university plans to use to increase its overall endowment, provide more scholarship money for Fisk students, improve academic programs and refurbish buildings on campus that are in need of repair.
With this decision, the arrangement between the university and the museum will be sent back to the state’s Chancery Court in Nashville, where details—such as the already completed refurbishment of Fisk’s art gallery and the ongoing cost of maintaining the collection when it is on campus—will be worked out, and where it is likely to be approved, observers say. The founder of Crystal Bridges, Walmart heiress Alice Walton, established a $1 million endowment to help pay for the ongoing conservation of the collection while it is at Fisk University.
No one from either Fisk or Crystal Bridges could say when the money would be paid to the university or when the collection would travel to Arkansas. Fisk president Hazel O’Leary said, Crystal Bridges “will not be ready to show the collection before 2013,” adding that an art committee composed of members of the university and staff at the Arkansas museum will “determine an appropriate sharing” of the collection. The $30 million is to be paid to the university “in one lump sum,” she noted.
The collection, which includes four paintings by
O’Keeffe, as well as others by Marsden Hartley, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Marin, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne, had belonged to photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz and was gifted by his widow O’Keeffe in 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death.
Georgia O’Keeffe donated the artworks with the provision that all of the pieces be kept together, never to be loaned or sold. The artist had never visited the historically black Fisk University, nor knew anyone there, before her friend Carl Van Vechten, a photographer and art historian who knew then Fisk president Charles S. Johnson, convinced her to donate the Stieglitz collection.