Attention: Wal-Mart Shopping

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Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress who’s always on the hunt for artworks to fill her forthcoming Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., has jumped into the Fisk University sale. The story appeared first in The Tennessean. She’s offered to purchase a 50% share of Fisk’s Alfred Stieglitz bequest. That collection includes the Georgia O’Keeffe painting Radiator Building — Night, New York that Fisk is already hoping to sell to the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Walton is proposing to take the entire collection, not just the O’Keeffe, in a sharing arrangement with Fisk that would bring the school $30 million. The Walton offer is contingent on the Chancellor of Davidson County disallowing the proposed deal between Fisk and the O’Keeffe Museum. There’s a hearing on that question coming up next month.

Whether it happens or not, these sharing arrangements are getting to be an ever more common proposal for cash-strapped colleges looking to turn their art collections into revenue. But the deals leave open a lot of unanswered questions. Here’s just one. If Walton’s offer were acccepted by Fisk, would her museum be allowed to lend works from the Stieglitz bequest to other museums? Would Fisk have any say over where the works could travel? When institutions “share” collections, who makes the rules? My guess would be the partner with the checkbook.

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