AG files to appeal court-approved deal over Fisk art collection

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 6:44pm

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. filed an application to appeal the court-approved cash-for-share of Fisk University’s prestigious Stieglitz Collection on Monday, further extending the years-long legal battle over the collection of modern art.

Fisk is attempting to sell a half-share of the collection, donated by artist Georgia O’Keefe, to Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas for $30 million to help the school climb out of a dire financial situation.

Cooper and the attorney general’s office, however, have continually attempted to block the move.

“Rather than simply seeking to relieve itself of the ongoing costs of displaying and maintaining the collection, who would most closely comport with the donor’s original intent… Fisk instead has asked the courts for the extraordinary remedy of allowing it to sell the collection in an effort to bolster Fisk’s financial condition,” the latest appeal reads.

Davidson County Chancery Court and the state’s Court of Appeals approved the share sale.

“The Attorney General submits that [those courts’] interpretation has absolutely no basis in the law or record and ignores the donor’s express direction that Fisk can never sell the Collection,” the Attorney General wrote.

The Attorney General claims that he is acting in the best interest of donors and that the case is “fundamental to the administration of charitable gifts in Tennessee.”

Fisk, which needs to raise roughly $8 million by June in order to keep its doors open, has maintained that the sharing agreement benefits all of the parties involved — and is consistent with O’Keefe’s original intent with the donation.

“There’s been a twisted interpretation that says Fisk has sold its art and it’s going away to this strange place in western Arkansas,” Fisk University president Hazel O’Leary told The City Paper in December.

“We’re sharing this collection and it will benefit not only people in Middle Tennessee and the young people at Fisk, but the people who are now traveling to a world-class museum in Arkansas where a collection of early American Art will be there to see.” 

1 Comment on this post:

By: oldbailey on 1/31/12 at 11:15

Fisk clearly seeks to bust the bequest. I'm amazed that the court of appeals does not grasp this. The AG is doing the right thing. It remains to be seen whether the Supremes will defend the rule of law or simply allow the highest bidder to determine what happens.