Fisk University has finally got permission to sell its Stieglitz collection which trustees believe is a necessary action for the school’s survival. It’s taken seven years in court, but now the last hurdle has been jumped, and the Fisk can sell its artworks worth $30 million.
The artworks in question were donated to the school in 1949 by Georgia O’Keeffe, and came from the estate of her late husband, Alfred Stieglitz. Included in the collection are works by by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, and O’Keeffe herself. She gave the collection to Fisk on the condition that the collection could neither be sold nor broken up.
The legal battle commenced when the Tennessee State Attorney General’s appealed to the Supreme Court to ensure that the Stieglitz collection remained in Nashville. But the Tennessee Supreme Court has now denied the state the right to make this demand, and have given local courts the go-ahead to start the necessary administrative processes before the sale.
In order to honour O’Keeffe’s wishes, Fisk have brokered an agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, that the collection will be exhibited at each institution for two years at a time – i.e. understanding that the collection must not be broken up, and also that it was intended to be on display at Fisk.
Vice chairman of Fisk’s board of trustees, Andrew Patterson, described how ‘When I got on the board, I wasn’t in favor of selling the artwork. But I learned where we were, and I became convinced we had no alternative if we were going to survive.’
He believes that a partial sale of this kind ‘gives us the ability to stabilize’; ‘It will help with academic programs and capital improvements that have been neglected over the years.’
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