Legal Tussle Over Fisk University’s O’Keeffe Collection Has Ended


After seven years, a legal battle over Georgia O’Keeffe’s gift of artworks to Fisk University has ended. The agreement, reached yesterday in the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville, Tenn., allows a half-sale of the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton.


Fisk University had claimed that the school could not afford the annual display costs of the collection and might have to close if the sale did not go through. As part of the agreement, the school will receive $30 million. The collection will be exhibited at both institutions at rotating two-year intervals.


The Tennessee attorney general opposed the sale, arguing that the university should not be allowed to violate O’Keeffe’s stipulations that the collection not be sold or broken up.


The collection consists of 101 works, including four by O’Keeffe herself. Also represented are Picasso, Cézanne and Renoir. The collection was built by her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. O’Keeffe donated the collection, along with her own paintings, including Radiator Building-Night, New York, in 1949, in honor of the school’s mission to educate blacks while other Southern universities remained segregated.