Crystal Bridges trying to buy O’Keeffes

Crystal Bridges continues its quest to acquire significant American art. They’ve found themselves in court, of all places, while trying to rustle up some paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. From the New York Times:

    The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., has urged a Tennessee judge to block a $30 million art-sharing deal between Fisk University and a new museum in Arkansas founded by a Wal-Mart heiress.

    At issue is the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 101 pieces of Modern art donated to Fisk by Ms. O’Keeffe in 1949 that have been at the center of a legal tug of war for nearly two years. Seeking to increase its finances, Fisk recently agreed in principle to sell the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., a 50 percent stake in the collection for $30 million.

    In court papers filed on Monday, the O’Keeffe Museum, which represents Ms. O’Keeffe’s estate, urged Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a Davidson County Chancery Court judge in Nashville whose approval is needed for the deal, not to let the sale advance.

    The O’Keeffe Museum called Fisk’s quest for court approval “a wasteful exercise in futility” because Chancellor Lyle had vetoed a different sale of art from the Stieglitz Collection by Fisk. It also argued that Ms. O’Keeffe, Mr. Stieglitz’s wife, had never meant for Fisk to sell the works.

    Reached by telephone, Fisk’s president, Hazel O’Leary, said the university was being “held hostage” by the litigation. “Their intention is to bleed us to death,” she said. “They know that time is not on our side here.”

    Robert Workman, Crystal Bridges’ executive director, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

    The dispute is among several in which small colleges and universities around the nation have tried to leverage valuable artwork to seek financial stability. Fisk, an esteemed but financially ailing historically black university, has said it might close if it cannot sell works from the collection, or at least a stake in it.

    The struggle has been watched in the art world because of the ethical and legal questions surrounding art bequests, as well as surrounding sales from institutions’ collections, known as deaccessioning.

    The museum world is also riveted by recent acquisitions by Alice L. Walton, the founder of Crystal Bridges. In 2005 she bought “Kindred Spirits,” an 1849 Hudson River School painting, by Asher B. Durand, from the New York Public Library for an estimated $35 million. She also tried but failed to buy “The Gross Clinic,” a painting by Thomas Eakins, from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

    The Fisk dispute began when it sought court permission to sell two paintings from the Stieglitz Collection: Ms. O’Keeffe’s 1927 “Radiator Building — Night, New York” and Marsden Hartley’s 1913 “Painting No. 3.”

    The O’Keeffe Museum sued to block the sale but then negotiated a settlement in which it would buy “Radiator” for $7.5 million. Citing the offer from Crystal Bridges, Chancellor Lyle vetoed the O’Keeffe deal last month as detrimental to the interests of the people of Tennessee.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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