NEW YORK—On Sept. 25 the board of trustees of Fisk University, Tennessee, approved an agreement with Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton under which the university would give her a 50 percent interest in its prized Alfred Stieglitz Collection of 101 modern artworks in exchange for $30 million. The settlement comes after nearly two years of negotiation and litigation in which the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, has been a key player (ANL, 9/18/07, pp. 4-5).
Under the terms of the agreement, Fisk and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark., founded by Walton and slated to open in fall 2009, would share joint ownership allowing for “mutual care and management of the collection as well as the right to publicly display [it] on an equal basis.” The collection includes major works by Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.
Heiress Sweetens the Pot
In a further development Walton has personally pledged $1 million toward the renovation of Fisk’s Carl Van Vechten Gallery, which houses the Stieglitz trove. The university and Crystal Bridges also have announced the establishment of an internship program, funded by Crystal Bridges, which will allow Fisk students to participate in on-site training at the new museum.
Fisk, which has cited an urgent need for funds to maintain its accreditation, will seek approval from the Chancery Court for the State of Tennessee, Davidson County.
If approved, the deal will bring closure to a lengthy, complicated series of events that ensued after Fisk’s announcement in 2005 that it would seek permission to sell O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building-Night, New York, 1927, and Hartley’s Painting No. 3, 1913, with a combined market-value estimate of $15/20 million.
The O’Keeffe museum, acting for the artist’s estate, sued Fisk in early 2006, alleging that the university had breached the conditions of O’Keeffe’s 1949 gift to the school: 101 works from the collection of her late husband, Stieglitz, given on the condition that they be kept together.
For several months in 2006, Fisk and the O’Keeffe museum held discussions that resulted in an agreement calling for Fisk to send the O’Keeffe painting to the O’Keeffe museum in return for $7.5 million.
The museum would then allow the university to sell the Hartley work and keep the profit. Additionally, the museum would provide Fisk with a high-quality reproduction of O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building-Night and allow the original to be displayed at the university for four months out of every four years.
In the chancery court on Sept. 10, chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle rejected the settlement on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the people of Tennessee. “First,” she stated, “there is the obvious reason that Crystal Bridges offers more money—$30 million is four times the $7.5 million offered by the museum.” Lyle further noted that the Crystal Bridges proposal keeps the collection together.