July 16, 2009
Litigation Over Artwork Donation
Not a legal profession case, but of possible interest, is a decision filed on July 14 by the Court of Appeals of Tennessee. At issue were the rights of three parties in a charitable gift to Fisk University of 101 pieces of art that Georgia O'Keeffe had donated to the University. Four of the pieces (including the painting Radiator Building - Night, New York) were her property; the other 97 were part of the collection of her husband Alfred Stieglitz and had been gifted to the school by Ms. O'Keeffe as executrix of his estate and/or as owner of a life estate in those pieces of art.
The gift was subject to several restrictions that included a prohibition on sale of the art and a requirement that the pieces be displayed as a single collection. Fisk sought a declaratory judgment to permit the sale of two pieces because it could no longer afford to maintain the collection under the 50 year old terms of the donation. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the Tennessee Attorney General intervened. The court here held that the museum had no reversionary interest in the art and thus lacked standing to intervene. The matter was remanded to the trial court with instructions to determine whether cy pres relief is available to the University and, if so, to fashion appropriate relief. (Mike Frisch)
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