Attorney General Bob Cooper filed today a proposal, which provides for the Tennessee Arts Commission to take temporary possession of the Alfred Stieglitz art collection from Fisk University.
The proposal is a response to the Aug. 20 ruling from Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, who said the university’s financial condition does not make it practicable for it to continue to maintain and display the art collection in Nashville.
The university has been trying to convert the art to cash since December 2005, when it sought legal permission to sell two of the Stieglitz Collection's most valuable paintings: Georgia O'Keeffe's "Radiator Building — Night New York" and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3." When a court struck down that deal, the university presented a deal with Crystal Bridges, a 120,000-square-foot facility under construction in Bentonville, Ark. For $30 million, the university would sell a half-interest in the 101 works in the Stieglitz Collection, and the collection would rotate between Fisk's campus and Crystal Bridges.
Under the attorney general's proposal, the state would contract with Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts to maintain and display the collection. Fisk University would be relieved of all costs associated with maintaining and exhibiting the collection and would not be charged for any work needed to preserve and display the art.
Fisk spends an average of $131,000 annually on the Stieglitz Collection, in compliance with conditions imposed by artist Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949. That was the year she donated the art from the estate of her late husband, the famed photographer and collector Alfred Stieglitz.
“This is only a temporary arrangement,” said Cooper. “The collection should return to the Fisk campus when the University is once again financially able to display and maintain the art.”
Cooper said the collection would maintain a close relationship with Fisk and would continue to be known and identified as the “Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University.”
The university would have the right to ask that the court return the art when the school is financially able to maintain and display it. Under the proposal, a committee of nationally recognized experts has agreed to assist with maintenance and preservation of the art.
To address these concerns, the Attorney General’s proposal includes a committee of nationally recognized experts which would propose best practices for care and display of the art. The Attorney General would suggest modifications in the required conditions based on the recommendations of these experts.
She held that any alternative proposal for the Collection must closely approximate the intent of the donor, Georgia O’Keeffe, that the Collection be displayed in Nashville to promote the study of art in Nashville and the South.
Under the agreement, Fisk students and faculty would have additional access to the collection for research and study.
The Frist Center would make suitable gallery space available for display of the collection at no charge to the public with additional access for educational purposes by Fisk students and faculty. As owner of the building, Metro Nashville would help defray the cost of renovations necessary to prepare the gallery space.
Specifically, the proposal calls for the Frist Center to convert the 900-square-foot Rechter Community Room into a gallery to house the collection. There will be no charge for admission to that gallery. The State of Tennessee would pay for insurance and any remediation or restoration and upkeep of the art while Metro Development and Housing Authority pays for the actual renovation.