O'Keeffe Estate Challenges Fisk's Deal With Wal-Mart Heiress

Georgia O'Keeffe's most famous painting "Radiator Building — Night, New York" and 100 other works won't be going to an Arkansas museum founded by a Wal-Mart heiress if lawyers representing the late artist's estate have their way.

Lawyers for the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, filed a legal challenge late Monday that seeks to prevent Fisk University from selling a stake in the collection donated by O'Keeffe to the historically black school.

The cash-strapped school wants to sell a 50 percent share of the collection to a museum founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton for $30 million (euro21.09 million). That deal follows a Nashville judge's ruling that denied a previous settlement with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

The O'Keeffe Museum, which had earlier sued to stop the school from selling paintings on the open market to raise money, referred in its filing to an earlier finding by Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle that O'Keeffe's "donation was not given to Fisk to use as a source of revenue."

The deal would also violate O'Keeffe's conditions that the entire collection be displayed together and not sold, the museum's lawyers said.

O'Keeffe in 1949 divided the bulk of her late husband Alfred Stieglitz's nearly 1,000-piece collection of paintings, sculptures, prints and photos among six institutions. The artworks given to Fisk included her own 1927 "Radiator Building" oil painting and works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Lyle last month rejected a settlement of a previous lawsuit by the O'Keeffe Museum that would have sent "Radiator Building" to New Mexico for $7.5 million (euro5.27 million) and given Fisk the right to sell a prominent painting by modernist Marsden Hartley.

The judge cited the better terms offered by the rival offer from Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, in rejecting that agreement.

The Crystal Bridges deal would split the ownership of the collection in half and provide for Fisk and the museum to display the works for equal amounts of time.

Crystal Bridges would also pledge $1 million (euro700,000) to help Fisk renovate its Carl Van Vechten Gallery, which houses the Stieglitz Collection and is currently closed for repairs.

The collection is now in storage at Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

Fisk University was founded in 1866 to educate former slaves, but the school has struggled throughout its history to raise money and nearly closed 20 years ago because of lack of funding.