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VOL. 124 | NO. 5 | Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fisk: Remove NM O'Keeffe Museum from Art Dispute

By ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Fisk University asked a panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals on Wednesday to declare that a New Mexico museum representing the estate of late artist Georgia O'Keeffe has no right to a 101-piece collection she donated to the school in 1949.

Fisk attorney John Branham also argued that the cash-strapped school should be allowed to revive a $30 million deal to sell an equal stake in the collection to an Arkansas museum founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.

The appeal is the latest legal step in what Branham called "a three-year battle royale" that developed after the historically black school in Nashville put the collection into storage in 2005 and announced plans to sell two key paintings to raise money.

The latest appraisal of the collection indicated a value of about $75 million, which represents about half of Fisk's total assets, Branham said.

Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle rejected the school's efforts to sell O'Keeffe's 1927 oil painting "Radiator Building – Night, New York," and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3." She also rejected the deal to share the collection with the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark.

Lyle also ordered in March that the school had to put the collection back on display by October or forfeit it to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M.

Branham argued that it is unreasonable and potentially dangerous for the conservation of the paintings to keep them all permanently on display. But O'Keeffe Museum attorney Bill Harbison was dismissive of that approach.

"This whole argument about the paintings deteriorating is not the basis on which this case is filed," he said. "This case was filed (by Fisk) to sell the art, which is not as close as possible to the donor's intent – it's a complete derivation."

The court did not indicate when it would rule.

The artworks were part of a collection that belonged to O'Keeffe's late husband, the photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz. Fisk argues that since O'Keeffe was giving away Stieglitz's collection there's no reason why the collection would revert to O'Keeffe's estate.

Art historians say the collection has an appealing unity because many of the artists were part of O'Keeffe and Stieglitz's circle of friends, like Alfred Maurer, Charles Demuth and Diego Rivera.

O'Keeffe died in 1986.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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