Thursday, June 14, 2007

Art Space News: Fisk University Blocked From Selling O'Keeffe Painting

(1927 painting by Georgia O'Keeffe, 'Radiator Building -- Night, New York.')

A judge judge recently declared that Fisk University cannot sell any of the 101 works of art — some worth millions of dollars — donated by Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949. The university had planned to sell two of the 101 works of art in order to raise money for their financially drained endowment.

The ruling has caused a stir in both the academic community and certain circles of the art world. Is it wrong for schools to sell the donated art? Does this mean that people can't make a profit off of a work of art if it has been donated? What about art that has been donated to an institution by someone other than the artists who created it?

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ordered the Nashville university not to sell any of the works in the Alfred Stieglitz Collection. Chancellor Lyle noted that the works of art were donated to be used for art education.The problem with this is that most artwork is donated for that reason. Thus, schools may now be dead-locked when it comes to selling donated art in order to raise money for their endowments- which has long been a practice in the academic community.

Fisk University has been fighting a legal battle since 2005 over whether it could sell two works from the collection. The collection, which was compiled by O'Keefe's photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, includes works by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as two O'Keeffes. The judge decided that "Dividing the Collection destroys the identity and effect of the charitable purpose since the collection was donated as a gift from O'Keeffe.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico, which represents the late painter's estate, has filed suit against the university. Museum representatives claim that the university has violated the terms of the late artist's bequest. It is assumed that the museum may try to obtain the collection due to this violation of terms. The case is set to go to trial on July 16.

I'm not suggesting that I agree with the moral decision of Fisk University in their attempt to sell the two paintings. However, morality really has nothing to do with this. Their decision was based on business savvy. Thus, they felt they were doing the right thing for their institution. This form of fund raising has went on for years in the academic community. Why are people upset now when so many other donated works of art have been sold before without question?

What do you think about all of this? Is it legal for a judge to tell someone (or an institution) what they are allowed to do with their donated art collections? Should the request of the artist matter once the art is in the possession of another person? Does this mean that art collectors or dealers who have donated art in their collections- which is common- can no longer make a profit on it?
What if the art is donated by someone other than the artists who created it- does that mean said art is 'dead' on the market even though the artist had nothing to do with it being donated? This issue is now a legal can of worms!
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that whether or not the any institution has the right to sell donated art, depends on the terms of the donation. If a benefactor onates art and specifically states that the collection should not be sold, then i think the institution is wrong to sell. If the benefactor intends that the work is for academic purposes, perhaps funding the existence of the institution could qualify as an academic purpose.