Fisk University announced today that the Tennessee Court of Appeals had ruled in its favor and had reversed a decision of the Davidson County Chancery Court which had prevented the sale of a one-half interest in its famous Stieglitz Art Collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas for $30 million.
The Appellate Court found in Fisk’s favor on all counts. It ruled that the O’Keeffe Museum had no standing to enter the case and vacated all orders from the lower court in support of the O’Keeffe Museum. It voided the injunction entered by the Chancery Court and stated on two occasions in the brief that the general intent expressed by Georgia O’Keeffe was that the Stieglitz Collection (including her four gifts) be displayed for the study of art “in Tennessee and in the South”.
The conclusion of the Appellate Court appears below:
“We reverse the trial court’s finding that the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has standing. We also reverse the trial court’s finding that the gifts to the University were motivated by a specific charitable intent instead of a general charitable intent, the finding that the University cannot establish that it is entitled to cy pres relief, and the order dismissing the Amended Petition of the University for cy pres relief. In furtherance of our decisions, we remand with instructions to strike all pleadings and motions filed by the O’Keeffe Museum, and its predecessor in interest the O’Keeffe Foundation, to dismiss the O’Keeffe Museum as a part to this action, to vacate all judgments entered in furtherance of the relief sought by the O’Keeffe Museum, including, without limitation, the trial court’s order entered March 6, 2008, and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Costs of appeal are assessed against the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum”.
Hazel R. O’Leary, President of Fisk, said: “We are obviously pleased by this ruling. Fisk looks forward to the resolution of the case but fully understands that it will take time. The expense that the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is has forced Fisk to incur in its effort to gain ownership of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern Art could have been committed to scholarships for our students. We believe that the merit of our position is sound and are poised to continue the case to its conclusion.”
Fisk received the collection in 1949 from Georgia O’Keeffe, acting for herself and the estate of her late husband, Alfred Stieglitz. O’Keeffe imposed certain conditions on the ownership of the art by Fisk, including a condition that Fisk would not sell the collection. O’Keeffe died in 1986.
Fisk filed a petition asking the Chancery Court to waive the no-sale and other conditions regarding the display of works on paper in order to allow the sale of a one-half interest in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum. The Chancellor ruled that under New York law, which governs the imposition of the conditions by O’Keeffe, Fisk did not legally qualify for a waiver of the no-sale condition.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals said that Fisk did legally qualify for that relief. As a result, the Court sent the case back to the Chancery Court with instructions to hold a trial on the issue of whether or not the cy pres doctrine is applicable to the current case.
The O’Keeffe Museum had argued that because Fisk had violated certain condition imposed by O’Keeffe when she gave the art to Fisk, that the art collection should be forfeited to the O’Keeffe Museum. The Court of Appeals found that no such right existed.
The O’Keeffe Museum has 60 days to file an appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court. At that point, Fisk would then have the opportunity to file its own brief on appeal. The Supreme Court historically only hears a small number of the cases it is requested to review and may, or may not, elect to hear this case.
If the O’Keeffe Museum elects not to appeal the case, or if it appeals the case and its request to the Supreme Court is denied, the case will return to the Chancery Court for a trial on the merits and another decision by the Chancellor, consistent with the opinion handed down by the Court of Appeals. In that event, the O’Keeffe Museum would not be permitted to have any further participation in this case.
Founded in 1866, Fisk University is a coeducational university in Nashville, Tennessee with a curriculum that is grounded in the liberal arts tradition. A recent National Science Foundation study revealed that Fisk alumni earned more doctorate degrees in the natural sciences than African -American graduates from any other college or university in the nation.