Fisk University Back to Trying to Sell O’Keeffe Collection, Association of Art Museum Directors Tries to Get Involved


It’s been nearly a month since we last heard any news about the ongoing struggles at Fisk University over efforts to try selling off their collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings to help pay off their debts. At last we’d left it, a judge had struck down Tennessee’s attorney general’s request to remove the art from Fisk so the pieces could be cared for by the state until the university had its finances in order. That battle over, the university is back to trying to sell off half the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, by sending out newly-revised plans to the same judge who told them no the last time they tried this. From the Tennessean, here’s their new proposal:

Fisk’s revised sale plan removes a provision that would have set up a separate Delaware-based corporation to oversee the art and mediate between Fisk and Crystal Bridges. Opponents warned that the corporation, again, could have shifted the balance of power in the art-sharing agreement to Crystal Bridges’ favor. Instead, the chancery court would oversee any disputes between the two sides.

The new contract also blocks Crystal Bridges from selling its share of the collection without the Davidson County court’s permission. It also beefs up the language in the contract urging that O’Keeffe’s wishes be followed as closely as possible.

In response, the Association of Art Museum Directors has decided to get themselves involved, issuing a letter to Fisk’s president (PDF), both chiding them for attempting to sell, reminding them that if they sell a major collection now that future donors might be wary of ever giving to Fisk for fear their gifts will be broken up to help pay bills as well, and offering to meet with them to help devise some other solution that would keep O’Keeffe’s art where it is. Although they’ve won their share of defensive legal battle thus far, Fisk hasn’t had much luck yet in getting any momentum going in the sale direction, particularly in front of a judge who at their last meeting told them that a deal with Crystal Bridges would “dilute, override and in some cases thwart Ms. O’Keeffe’s intention.”