Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Because of the sharing arrangement, more people in the South can enjoy and study the Stieglitz Collection, which was the donor’s intent"

I'm a bit late getting to this, but Fisk has submitted a revised version of its agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum, to address some concerns the court had with an earlier version. As the NYT reports, "the university, which has longstanding financial difficulties, is seeking to share ownership of the collection with [Crystal Bridges]."

Fisk president Hazel O'Leary is quoted as saying: "In the 21st century, museums have adopted the practice of sharing artwork to reduce the cost of acquisition and to ensure that a broader segment of the population can view and study collections."

(Or, put another way: Besides sharing the financial burden, having a second venue is fair to the art and to the artists, who get more visibility.)

You can read Fisk's latest court filing here. On the Tennessee Attorney General's proposal (that the collection be given to Nashville's Frist Center), it says:

"[The AG's proposal] would guarantee only one thing: that the Collection would never again be displayed at Fisk. This would contravene the one aspect of O'Keeffe's intent that no party can dispute: that O'Keeffe chose Fisk to display the Collection. There is only one proposal on the table that provides for Fisk to continue to display the Collection. In fashioning cy pres relief, Fisk asks the Court to consider the stark difference between 50% of the time and never again" (my emphasis).

I made a similar point here. How anyone can be certain (to the point of being, as usual, outrageously outraged) that the AG plan is closer to O'Keeffe's intent than the Crystal Bridges sharing arrangement is, is beyond me. Consider the stark difference between 50% of the time and never again.

Finally, the AAMD jumps into the fray, with a letter to Fisk that seems to miss the point entirely. The letter is filled with the usual cliches about the public trust and works of art not being "fungible assets" (except when they are sold to raise money to buy more art, when they magically become the very definition of fungible assets!) and on and on. They "sympathize" with the financial "challenges" Fisk faces (recall that the court recently found that Fisk was "on the brink of closing" -- I guess you could call that a "challenge"), but they have come to inform us that the collection's "greatest value is as a tool for learning and teaching." Ah, so that's its greatest value. I bet Hazel O'Leary and the others at Fisk had never thought of that. So good that the AAMD roused itself, after five years of litigation, to clear that up. I'm sure Fisk will withdraw the lawsuit and call the whole thing off straight away.

While we wait for that to happen, I have the following question. If the collection's greatest value is as a tool for learning and teaching, why can't that value be realized at Crystal Bridges (or more precisely: half the time at Crystal Bridges and half the time at Fisk)? Won't there actually be more learning and teaching going on under the proposed sharing arrangement than there is now? Doesn't the Crystal Bridges plan greatly increase the number of people who can learn from the collection?

And what about the $30 million Fisk will receive? How much learning and teaching will that support? Does that not factor in at all?

I think the AAMD would have been better off staying out of this one.