Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Fisk Seeks Court's Permission to Sell Prized Paintings: Sale Would Improve Institution's Financial Standing, but Move the School Away from Its Legacy of Advancing the Arts

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Fisk Seeks Court's Permission to Sell Prized Paintings: Sale Would Improve Institution's Financial Standing, but Move the School Away from Its Legacy of Advancing the Arts

Article excerpt

Lawyers for Fisk University and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum early this month were working to hammer out an agreement that would avoid a potentially bitter court hearing in Nashville over whether Fisk has the authority to sell two priceless works of modern art as part of a financial recovery plan.

Fisk, the historically Black college that nurtured some of the great Black scholars and thinkers of the past century, including W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope Franklin and Nikki Giovanni, hopes to raise $10 million to $20 million in cash by selling the two crown jewels of its 3,000-plus piece collection of art and artifacts--Georgia O'Keeffe's "Radiator Building--Night, New York," and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3." Both paintings are part of the 101-piece "Stieglitz Collection," given to the school in 1948 by artist Georgia O'Keeffe. The gift included the restriction that the paintings were to be kept by the school and never sold.

Fisk has had its hands full since December 2005, when it asked a Chancery Court judge in Nashville to declare that the school has absolute ownership and authority over the Stieglitz Collection, a ruling that would give Fisk legal standing to dispose of the paintings.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and its successor, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, based in New Mexico, where O'Keeffe lived until her death, challenged the school's move. They have argued that O'Keeffe made it very clear in a 1949 letter that she wanted the collection to stay at Fisk permanently. It was part of a social enlightenment compact agreed upon in the late 1940's with Fisk's then-president, Charles S. Johnson.

The proposed sale has also drawn criticism from others in the arts education community and some Fisk alumni and supporters. They see it as a shortsighted, bandage approach to solving the university's chronic financial woes. Those problems date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the school began losing support from wealthy White philanthropists unhappy with the "Black Power" sentiments sweeping the campus. Reynaldo Glover, a Chicago corporate lawyer and Fisk chairman, counters the school's critics, asserting the sale is a "no brainer," given the choices facing the small, liberal arts university.

Since Fisk asked the court for the ruling, both sides have spent thousands of dollars gathering evidence to support their claims. A number of past Fisk officials have been deposed regarding their understanding of the tortuous history of the collection at Fisk, one marked both by failed attempts to sell it and attempts to promote it. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.