Fisk University Hopes To Sell O'Keeffe Art

By Erik Schelzig
Associated Press
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

NASHVILLE, Oct. 23 -- Fisk University could run out of money if it is unable to sell its stake in an art collection donated by Georgia O'Keeffe, a lawyer for the historically black school told a judge Tuesday.

Even with new revenue from next semester's student tuition, the school wouldn't be able to operate beyond February, attorney Stacey Garrett said.

Fisk, which was founded in 1866 to educate former slaves, has struggled financially throughout its history. All of its buildings have been mortgaged, and all other loan options have been exhausted, Garrett told the judge, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle.

Lyle has agreed to consider the university's proposal to sell 50 percent of its stake in a 101-piece collection for $30 million, despite objections from the Santa Fe museum that represents the late artist's estate.

Under the proposed arrangement, the collection would travel between Nashville and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.

Officials at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum say Fisk has violated the terms of the artist's gift to the school, which mandated that the artworks not be sold and that they be put on public display. As a consequence, they want the entire collection removed from Fisk's control and sent to New Mexico.

O'Keeffe divided the bulk of her late husband Alfred Stieglitz's nearly 1,000-piece collection of paintings, sculptures, prints and photos among six institutions in 1949. The artworks given to Fisk also included works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, George Grosz, Arthur Dove and John Marin.

Fisk's Carl Van Vechten Gallery, which houses the Stieglitz Collection, has fallen into disrepair, and the entire collection has been in storage since November 2005.

The O'Keeffe Museum had previously blocked the school's attempt to sell two of the

most prominent paintings, O'Keeffe's 1927 "Radiator Building -- Night, New York" and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3."

Lyle later rejected a proposed settlement that would have sent "Radiator Building" to New Mexico for $7.5 million and allowed the school to sell the Hartley painting.

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