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Stieglitz to Crystal Bridges? 

click to enlarge 'RADIATOR BUILDING': Walton's offer to Fisk requires O'Keefe's painting to stay with collection.
  • 'RADIATOR BUILDING': Walton's offer to Fisk requires O'Keefe's painting to stay with collection.

The Tennessean newspaper reported last week that Alice Walton has offered struggling Fisk University in Nashville $30 million to share its prized Alfred Stieglitz Collection of European and American artworks.

The deal would let Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum, to open in 2009, take possession of the works for six months out of the year.

The collection of 101 works of art was bequeathed to Fisk in 1949 by artist Georgia O'Keeffe, Stieglitz's wife, and it includes a work of art that the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico has arranged to buy from Fisk — “Radiator Building — Night, New York” by O'Keeffe. But Walton has made her offer contingent on the painting staying in the Fisk University Collection.

The partnership with Fisk looks like a win-win from here. The collection has been in storage for three years because of water damage to the roof of the gallery at Fisk. Not only would the Walton offer provide Fisk money it needs to rebuild its endowment, it could help repair the gallery and likely would help the university with insurance costs.

The O'Keeffe Museum sued Fisk two years ago to stop it from selling “Radiator Building” and Marsden Hartley's “Painting No. 3” on the open market, arguing that O'Keeffe's will prohibited breaking up the collection. The museum recently agreed to settle the suit if it could buy the O'Keeffe for $7.5 million, a figure that's been described as “lowball” for the masterwork. It would also allow the sale of the Hartley. A chancery court in Nashville will consider the settlement agreement in a hearing Sept. 6.

Meanwhile, Walton has written the Tennessee attorney general — who is a party to the museum's suit on behalf of the public — that if he signed off on the settlement with the museum, she would no longer be interested in the half-purchase of the collection.

“Radiator Building” would bring $25 million on the open market, according to some estimates. The Stieglitz Collection, according to the Fisk University website, includes works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Diego Rivera, Arthur Dove, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Demuth, John Marin, Gino Severini, Abraham Walkowitz and Stieglitz himself, as well as works by O'Keeffe and Hartley. A $30 million offer to own half of it sounds like a pretty good deal.

The Times could not reach Crystal Bridges director Bob Workman before deadline, but in a statement he issued last week he said, “We don't want to see the collection broken up against Ms. O'Keeffe's will.”

Earlier this year, Walton apparently made overtures to Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon) regarding its collection of American masters. Workman has mentioned partnerships — a growing trend in the museum field — as a goal of Crystal Bridges.

Bert and Ernie and Kermit the Frog and the drawings that inspired the famed puppets make up the Arkansas Arts Center's big fall show, “Jim Henson's Fantastic World,” opening Friday, Sept. 7, in the Townsend Wolfe Gallery.

The exhibit, coming from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Service, includes Henson's drawings, cartoons and storyboards that gave birth to the Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, the stuff of American childhood.

Also on view will be television and movie props, photographs of Henson and his collaborators, video and film. Admission to the show is $6 for adults, $4 for children, students and seniors and $3 for children in schoolgroups. The show runs through Nov. 25.

In the Jeannette Rockefeller Gallery of the AAC, “Jane Hammond: Paper Work” will feature 55 works on and in paper by the New York artist. Hammond works in both two and three dimensions using disparate images taken from other sources. A color catalogue accompanies the exhibition, organized by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.

The Candlelighters, a support group for children with cancer, is hosting its annual Gallery of Hope fund-raiser art auction from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, at the Junior League of Little Rock headquarters, 401 S. Scott St.

Contributing artists include Todd Crockett, Stephano, Marcus McAlister, Bob Crane, Austin Grimes, Bob Ocken, Andrew Kilgore and Winston Taylor. Tickets are $45; hors d'oeuvres and wine will be served. For more information, call 376-4567.

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