AG Cooper rejects $7 million purchase of painting

John O'Brien Apr. 10, 2007, 1:00pm


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Claiming there are offers that dwarf the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum's, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper recently said he couldn't allow Fisk University to grant the museum exclusive rights to purchase artwork by O'Keeffe herself.

Cooper said offers of up to $25 million -- the O'Keeffe Museum offered $7 million -- have been made to Fisk University for O'Keeffe's Radiator Building - Night, New York. That is why he denied a legal settlement between the two.

"In light of this information, the $7 million purchase price offered by the Museum is simply too deep a discount from the apparent market value for this Office to approve," Cooper said in a letter to attorneys representing Fisk and the O'Keeffe museum.

""While the settlement agreement is of obvious advantage for the Museum, which would obtain the Radiator Building at a bargain-basement price, it would represent both an artistic and financial loss for Fisk and would detract from the rich cultural environment of this community."

The painting is the centerpiece of Fisk's Stieglitz Collection, given to it by O'Keeffe in 1949 as a gift from the estate of her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

A trial is scheduled July 18 in Davidson County Chancery Court.

"It is my hope and desire that while Fisk pursues its legal action, the university will continue to explore all possible alternatives to preserve the Steiglitz Collection in its entirety," Cooper said.

The financially troubled university would also have to give up Painting No. 3 by Marsden Hartley as a result of the proposed settlement. Cooper said that because of an unexpectedly strong market, the university should not have to sell both.

In Tennessee, the attorney general has supervisory duties of any charitable gift to Tennesseans. The settlement also required Cooper's approval.

A release from Fisk said, "The Attorney General has been very sensitive to the interests of the people of Tennessee, and his assistance has been directed to the same goal as set by Fisk, which is how best to preserve and protect Fisk's legacy."

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