ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Georgia O'Keeffes to Stay at Fisk University

RadiatorbuildingnewyorknightIn 1949, Georgia O'Keeffe donated 101 of her paintings, including Radiator Building -- Night, New York (left) to Fisk University.  As CBS reports, O'Keeffe's donation required that the paintings not be sold and be kept on permanent display. Fisk University, however, is in financial distress and, according to The New York Times, a Tennessee judge last month enjoined Fisk from selling a half-interest in the artworks to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, for $30 million.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico, representing Ms. O'Keeffe's estate, sued in Tennessee to recover the paintings from Fisk, alleging a breach of the terms of the 1949 donation.  Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that Fisk may not sell the paintings, but it will not have to give them up.  The ruling may put Fisk's continued existence at risk.

[Jeremy Telman]

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The reason the paintings were given to Fiske U by Ms O'Keefe was, in her words, because of blacks' limited exposure to art [back in the late 1940's.] It was a generous gesture: both of the spirit and of her works. It is so very, very sad that Fiske, with its illustrious history, would today find itself in such dire financial straits. Distinguised alumni and others who have a vested interest in keeping the doors open need to heed the clarion call. Selling the art should never have been a consideration.

Posted by: Kenneth W. Livingston | Mar 10, 2008 2:01:55 PM

Thanks for the interest in what has been a very interesting case. Because of the complexity of the case most people who ask me about it usually don't have all the facts.

The reality was that the art came from Alfred Stieglitz, not O'Keeffe (please correct your spelling if possible). His estate gave the paintings to Fisk (Please correct your spelling if possible) because he wanted to challenge the segregated South to come together to appreciate art, not, as Mr. Livingston stated, because of African Americans alleged limited exposure to art. This is a critical nuance that commonly goes without challenge.

If you were to research you would understand that Radiator Building and a Demuth were given to Fisk outright by O'Keeffe and she received federal tax deductions for those contributions. The remaining 99 works of art came from the Estate of Alfred Stieglitz.

Let's not be flimsy with the grasp of basic parameters of the case. I would urge you to not succumb to the easy activity of simply reporting what others have reported as fact. Dig deeper, the truth is there if you are responsible in looking for it.

Posted by: Ken West | Jun 14, 2008 8:31:26 AM

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