Nashville-based Fisk University has announced that it has finalized a $30 million agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, to share ownership of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art, ending seven years of legal wrangling.
Under the agreement approved by Davidson County Chancery Court, the 101-piece collection — which was donated to the university by Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949 on the condition that it be kept intact, on display, and never sold — will be rotated between Fisk and Crystal Bridges every two years. The collection will be exhibited at the historically black university through the fall of 2013 before being moved to Crystal Bridges. In addition, the university has placed $100,000 of the $30 million into an escrow fund to pay its share of restoration and other required work and also has created a special endowment at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, to which it will contribute $3.9 million, to underwrite the care and exhibition of the collection. Alice L. Walton, Walmart heiress and the founder of Crystal Bridges, also has pledged $1 million to improve the financially troubled university's display facilities.
Fisk had sought the deal to help restore its financial health, but the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which represents the O'Keeffe estate, sued the university in 2007 for violating the terms of the influential artist's bequest. Although the lawsuit was later withdrawn, Fisk struggled to win court approval for modifying the terms of the gift. The final agreement came only after the Tennessee Court of Appeals approved the sale last November and the Tennessee Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that decision in April. Part of the sale's proceeds will be used to pay $5.8 million in legal fees incurred by the university, the Tennessean reports.
Saul Cohen, former president of the O'Keeffe Museum, told the Tennessean that Fisk's agreement to share ownership with Crystal Bridges was disheartening. "It means there's no enforcement for people who give gifts and want conditions met," Cohen said. "It may have an impact on people's willingness to give. It's sad for the university and for museums and nonprofits."