Earlier this month I wrote about
the financial problems facing Tennessee's Fisk University
. The university
wanted to broker a deal to sell off a share of its collection of art
donated by artist Georgia O'Keeffe but a Nashville judge has struck down a proposal to sell a 50 percent share of the collection for $30 million to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Crystal Bridges
is the museum being built by Wal-Mart
heiress Alice Walton. O'Keeffe donated the 101-piece collection of paintings
, photographs, drawings and sculptures from her late husband, noted photographer Alfred Stieglitz to the school
in 1949. The collection is housed in the Carl Van Vechten gallery and includes works by Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, O'Keeffe, Demuth, Hartley, Dove and Walkowitz.
This decision could radically impact the future of the school. The university can no longer afford to meet the standards of care and exhibition stipulated by Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949 when she donated the works. A new plan has to be created by the start of October. In the ruling the judge said she understood the school's position and financial trouble but found that the attempt to sell a share of the work out of state would conclusively break with O'Keeffe's wishes for the future of the works. The ruling states
that the university cannot "override, thwart, and dilute the purpose for which Ms. O'Keeffe made the gift."
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a comprehensive piece
on the subject which shows some of the other possible angles the university could take as it works on its new plan. The purpose of the gift was to provide Nashvillians and Southerners access to the collection to promote the study of art." The terms of the gift also stated that the pieces not be sold and that they be displayed together. There is a possibility that Fisk could submit a modified agreement with Crystal Bridges that might get approval. Another option could be a sharing agreement with other local museums or transferring the entire collection to another organization in Nashville which could better honor O'Keeffe's wishes. The university has around 700 students and has already cut salaries and elicited two degree programs
. Because of the dire nature of the situation, any potential decision may have to follow the spirit of O'Keeffe's requests rather than the exact stipulations because the money
simply isn't available for Fisk to continue to support this collection.