Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Fisk-O'Keeffe Settlement: Take Two

Fisk University and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum have -- for a second time -- entered into a settlement agreement to resolve their lawsuit over the intended sale of two paintings from the university's Stieglitz Collection. A previous settlement was rejected by the Tennessee Attorney General. The Nashville Tennessean has the story here. The settlement agreement is here. The parties' joint motion to the Court to approve the settlement, which contains a concise summary of the settlement terms, is here.

The basic deal is very similar to the one the AG rejected in the spring. Fisk sells O'Keeffe's Radiator Building to the museum for $7.5 million, in exchange for which the museum (a) drops its counterclaims seeking to force the university to turn over the entire collection to the museum and (b) agrees not to challenge the sale of the other important painting the university is interested in selling, Marsden Hartley's Painting No. 3. The museum also agrees to loan the O'Keeffe to the university for four months every four years.

The previous deal was for $7 million, and I also don't recall the four-month loan requirement being a part of it (though I could be wrong about that), so this is in some ways a slightly better deal for the university than the one the AG turned down. (The museum also agrees that, if it sells the painting in the next 20 years, Fisk will get half of any proceeds over $7.5 million, but, pace Tyler Green, I assume that's very unlikely to happen.) On the other hand, the sale of the Hartley now comes with some restrictions that I, again, don't recall being in the prior deal (though again I could be wrong): (i) Fisk has to use its best efforts to sell to a buyer who agrees to keep the painting in Tennessee; (ii) if it can't find such a buyer, it has to use its best efforts to extract a commitment from the buyer to "return the painting periodically to Fisk for a finite period of time during which it can be exhibited at Fisk"; and (iii) it must include, "as a condition of the purchase" (i.e., this is more than just a "best efforts" obligation), that the purchaser will commit, so long as it owns the painting, that it will "assure to the public, under reasonable regulations, access to the painting to promote the study of art." Preseumably, all of those conditions will combine to depress the sales price Fisk could otherwise expect to receive (which, at the time of the previous settlement, was estimated to be in excess of $20 million).

The settlement is expressly conditioned on approval of the Court (see paragraph 1(a)), and the parties will appear before Judge Lyle on Aug. 31. There is no similar provision regarding the Attorney General. The Tennessean article reports that he "was not part of the discussions for the latest agreement, and it remains to be seen what his response will be." (A spokeswoman is quoted as saying, "We're going to review what was filed.")

Tyler Green is befuddled. He's also skeptical of the statement by a Fisk spokesman that "if the settlement doesn't go through, it does mean Fisk could cease to exist," on the ground that it's hard to see how $7.5 million can be "the do-or-die amount"; but that overlooks the additional money the university is going to get from the sale of the Hartley. The real haul for the university from the deal is more likely in the $20-30 million range. (I'm not sure whether that's a more plausible "do-or-die amount" or not, but it's certainly moving in the right direction.) Radical conservative Lee Rosenbaum must not take the do-or-die claims very seriously either: she calls for the Attorney General "to nix this ditzy deal," which would mean, again, that the university doesn't see any of that $20-30 million and, in addition, would also risk losing the entire Stieglitz Collection in a September trial on the museum's counterclaims.