Lawyers for Fisk University, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office got another chance to rumble at yesterday’s hearing in Tennessee Court of Appeals, where the university is seeking a reversal of a lower court decision that prevented the Nashville university from selling a $30-million half-share in its Stieglitz Collection to Alice Walton‘s planned Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville.
The collection was given to Fisk by artist Georgia O’Keeffe, which is why the O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, is in the case: It argues that it should receive the works (as the donor’s “successor-in-interest”), if Fisk can’t comply with O’Keeffe’s wishes. On one thing both Fisk and the Tennessee Attorney General agree: They want the judge to rule that the O’Keeffe Museum should be removed from the case.
What most interests me about how Fisk’s half-deaccession proposal is playing out is the continued activist role of the state’s attorney general, Robert Cooper, whose stance on deaccessioning has been in sharp contrast to that of his counterparts in some other states, who have been sleeping watchdogs when it comes to safeguarding the public’s cultural patrimony.
WPLN, reporting on yesterday’s hearing, quotes this statement by the AG:
This office has stated to the court of appeals and in its briefs that it has serious concerns and reservations about that deal [the one with Crystal Bridges], and about any deal that would remove the art from this community and this state, and keep it from being enjoyed and used in the way that was intended by the original donor….
Obviously, if Fisk were to go forward, we would be vigorously involved in that lawsuit [which could revert to the lower court for determination of whether it had become impracticable and impossible for Fisk to maintain the collection].
This falls short of a statement that Cooper would oppose the deal. But read this excerpt from the AG’s brief, filed in connection with Fisk’s appeal:
Fisk’s aggressive claim seeking permission to sell a half-interest in the collection is…problematic. Even if the court found that…Fisk’s financial condition rendered compliance with the gift’s restrictions impracticable or impossible, the court would still have great discretion of which conditions should be amended to address such findings. Such relief would not necessarily include, and would likely fall short of [emphasis added], a sale of the Collection….
Fisk attempts to argue in its brief that the Crystal Bridges agreement most effectively achieves O’Keeffe’s intent….It is entirely possible that a much less drastic…remedy than selling the collection would satisfy Fisk’s needs, if Fisk is entitled to any…relief at all.