Fisk Says It Must Sell O'Keeffe Art Collection to Survive
In October, a judge will decide whether saving one means sacrificing the other.
The state attorney general has until Sept. 10 to draw up a plan that would allow the art to stay in Nashville. Fisk has until Oct. 8 to hammer out a new contract with Crystal Bridges that is closer to O'Keeffe's intent and ensures that Fisk maintains its fair share of the collection. On that day, Lyle will either make a decision or order both sides back into court.
The three days of testimony before Lyle turned a harsh spotlight on the relationship between Fisk and the community it calls home. It even pitted Fisk against the art itself.
Fisk attorney John Branham argued that the collection was created by "Caucasians," with no real connection to Fisk's true mission. The collection, amassed by O'Keeffe's late husband, the legendary photographer Alfred Stieglitz, includes works by Picasso, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Diego Rivera and O'Keeffe herself.
It is visited by fewer than seven people a day.
Fisk is home to thousands of other artworks, many donated to the school by Harlem Renaissance-era artists like Aaron Douglas, who filled the school's former library with soaring murals. Now the roof of Cravath Hall leaks, and the murals peel and warp. The university cannot afford to maintain the African-American art it has, much less that done by non-black artists.
Branham brought images of the Douglas work and Henry Ossawa Tanner's The Three Marys into court, propping them next to reproductions of Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove abstracts from the Stieglitz collection.
"This is a real prize by a black artist," Branham said, gesturing to the Tanner. "This is a prize that really needs to be kept in Nashville, in the South, in this community." If the Crystal Bridges deal does not go through, he warned, The Three Marys would be "auctioned off to pay for toilet paper."