Fisk Nearly Out Of Cash As It Seeks Quick Ruling On O’Keeffe Sale

NASHVILLE Tenn.

A lawyer for Fisk University said Tuesday that the historically black school could run out of money by Dec. 15 if it’s unable to sell its stake in an art collection donated by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Attorney Stacey Garrett told the judge that Fisk wouldn’t be able to pay its bills or meet payroll without selling the collection. Even with new revenue from next semester’s student tuition, the school wouldn’t be able to operate beyond February, she said.

Fisk asked Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle to set a trial date before the end of year to determine whether the school will be allowed to sell a 50 percent share of the 101-piece collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for $30 million.

Under the proposed arrangement, the collection would travel between Nashville and the Bentonville, Ark., museum founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.

Lawyers for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M. which represents the late artist’s estate and opposes the Crystal Bridges deal said they could be ready for trial in February.

Officials at the O’Keeffe museum say Fisk has violated the terms of O’Keeffe’s gift to the school, which mandated that the artworks not be sold and that they be put on public display.

As a consequence, the O’Keeffe museum wants the entire collection removed from Fisk’s control and sent to New Mexico.

Fisk’s Carl Van Vechten Gallery, which houses the Stieglitz Collection, has fallen into disrepair and the entire collection has been in storage at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts since November 2005.

Fisk, which was founded in 1866 to educate former slaves, has struggled financially throughout its history. All Fisk’s buildings at the school have been mortgaged, and all other loan options have been exhausted, Garrett told the judge.

Pressed by Lyle on how dire the school’s financial situation is, Garrett said the school is making a final effort to find up to $1.5 million that could keep it afloat until mid-January.

The New Mexico museum had previously blocked the school’s attempt to sell two of the collection’s most prominent paintings, O’Keeffe’s own 1927 oil painting “Radiator Building Night, New York” and Marsden Hartley’s “Painting No. 3.”

Lyle later rejected a proposed settlement between Fisk and the O’Keeffe museum that would have sent “Radiator Building” to New Mexico for $7.5 million and allowed the school to sell the Hartley painting on the open market.

Experts estimate that the two paintings could fetch more than $45 million on the open market.

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 also included works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, George Grosz, Arthur Dove and John Marin.

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