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O’Keeffe Museum Challenges Painting Deal Fisk Made With Arkansas Museum

Tenn.Georgia O’Keeffe’s most famous painting “Radiator Building Night, New York” and 100 other works won’t be going to Arkansas if the museum that represents the late artist’s estate has its way.

Lawyers for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum filed a legal challenge late Monday that seeks to prevent Fisk University from selling a stake in the collection that O’Keeffe donated to the historically Black university.

The cash-strapped school wants to sell a 50 percent share of the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for $30 million. The museum was founded by Alice Walton, daughter of late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.

The works also would split time between Fisk and the Bentonville, Ark., museum.

A spokesman for Fisk University did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The Santa Fe, N.M.-based O’Keefe museum had filed an earlier lawsuit against the university’s plan to sell two works, including the “Radiator Building,” on the open market.

The school and the museum then reached a settlement in which the museum would get the “Radiator Building” painting for $7.5 million, and allowed the school to sell the other painting, one done by modernist Marsden Hartley.

A judge rejected that settlement, saying the terms of the Walton deal were better. The O’Keeffe museum then dropped its lawsuit.

In the latest legal challenge, the O’Keeffe museum’s lawyers said the Walton deal would violate the artist’s condition that the collection not be sold.

O’Keeffe in 1949 divided the bulk of her late husband Alfred Stieglitz’s nearly 1,000-piece collection of paintings, sculptures, prints and photos among six institutions.

The artworks given to Fisk included her own 1927 “Radiator Building” oil painting and works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Under terms of the Walton deal, Crystal Bridges would also pledge $1 million to help Fisk renovate its Carl Van Vechten Gallery, which houses the Stieglitz Collection and is currently closed for repairs.

The collection is now in storage at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

Fisk University was founded in 1866 to educate former slaves, but the school has struggled throughout its history to raise money and nearly closed 20 years ago because of lack of funding.

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