Saturday, February 09, 2008

More Fisk Follies

You knew it would come to this: "Fisk University will not be able to sell a 50 percent share in its Alfred Stieglitz Collection of modern art to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., says a Friday court filing. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle's latest ruling in the university's protracted lawsuit would appear to be a decisive blow against Fisk, which has spent more than two years attempting to solve financial difficulties through the sale of its prized Stieglitz collection, donated to the school by painter Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949."

The next step is a trial beginning Feb. 19 to determine whether the entire collection should be turned over to the museum because Fisk has failed to comply with the conditions of O'Keeffe's donation.

So what's happened over the last few months is that Judge Lyle rejected a settlement between Fisk and the museum on the grounds that it was not in "the best interests of the people of the State of Tennessee" since there was a better offer available from Crystal Bridges -- but now she says Fisk isn't permitted to accept that better offer (leaving one to wonder in what sense it was ever "available" in the first place). And, to top it all off, there remains the possibility that the entire collection will be forfeited and end up in New Mexico.

Just bizarre.

I said nearly a year ago that supporters of the university, many of whom cheered the decision to reject the proposed settlement with the museum, "may come to regret the decision to leave twenty million on the table just because it wasn't forty," and that certainly seems more true than ever today: if the museum prevails at trial, Fisk will have gone from a situation where it would have had $20- or $30-million (or more) in cash and 99 of the 101 pieces in the Stieglitz Collection (not to mention the right to exhibit the signature work in the collection about 8% of the time) to a situation where it has . . . nothing.