Supreme Court Denies Attorney General’s Motion to Appeal Fisk Art Deal

The long court battle over whether Fisk University can sell a stake in a valuable art collection may be coming to an end.

Artist Georgia O’Keefe gave the 101-piece Stieglitz Collection to Fisk in 1946 with the stipulation that it could not be sold. At issue for the last several years has been whether Fisk can accept 30 million dollars to share the art with Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas.

The state Attorney General has contended that the sharing agreement violates O’Keefe’s instructions, but last ruling in the case was in Fisk’s favor, and now, the Tennessee Supreme Court has decided the Attorney General will not be allowed to appeal.

Certain administrative details still have to be worked out in chancery court, but Fisk President Hazel O’Leary says the appeal’s denial feels like the beginning of the end.

“Sometimes it’s not a wise thing to say that we’ve won, but, in point of fact, on all of the legal issues in this case, Fisk has won.”

Last year, the director of Crystal Bridges said in an interview that, if they had it to do again, the museum would not pursue the Fisk art. However, the two sides do have a contract which O’Leary says goes into effect as soon as the court formally gives approval.


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Crystal Bridges founder Alice Walton has created a $1 million endowment to pay for the ongoing care and display of the collection at Fisk. One of the items that must be sorted out in chancery court is whether that fund is large enough for the task at hand. Fisk also must show that the gallery where it displays the collection on campus has been adequately refurbished.

O’Leary says the working details of how the art will be shared are still not set in stone. She expects the collection will move on a three year cycle (three years in Arkansas, followed by three years in Nashville, and so on) starting no earlier than 2013.

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