Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery

When Fisk opened its doors in 1866, its first priority was educating newly freed slaves who had been denied even the most elementary of educations. Its first students ranged in age from seven to 70 years. The building shown above, completed in 1889, was the first gymnasium built on the campus of a predominantly black school in the United States.

As Fisk grew, the arts became an integral part of the school's curriculum. African art and artifacts have always had a place in the school's collection. In 1871, Queen Victoria donated a painting of the Jubilee Singers to the school - its first major piece of art. Over the years, Fisk added an art department and added to the university's art collection.

Fisk sociology professor, Carl S. Johnson, commissioned the Fisk Murals for the school's library in 1930. When Johnson became Fisk's first black president in 1947, he and his friend, noted photographer, art critic and collector, Carl Van Vechten were instrumental in the school's receiving works of art from the collection of the late Alfred Stieglitz. Georgia O'Keefe, Stieglitz's wife, donated 101 pieces, including photographs, drawings, paintings and sculptures, from the late photographer's collection. In 1949, the gymnasium's was renovated and rededicated as the Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery in his honor.

In 1984, the building reopened after another extensive renovation. Its collection today includes the work of several well-known and upcoming artists. Included are works of Aaron Douglas, Picasso, Renior and others, as well as archived papers of W.E.B . DuBois and Langston Hughes.

Unfortunately, Fisk University is suffering financially. The condition of the art gallery has deteriorated in recent years, and the O'Keefe collection has been in storage since 2005. Even with student tuition and mortgages on the university's buildings, the school is struggling. Fisk has tried to sell two of the paintings from the O'Keefe collection to boost its operating revenue. The O'Keefe Museum has blocked these attempts saying they violate O'Keefe's stipulation that the works not be sold.

On February 9, a judge blocked another attempt by the school to sell partial interest in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. The agreement would have sent the collection to the museum owned by Wal-Mart heirs for six months annually. The judge, in ruling against the deal, said O'Keefe's stipulations against sale and that the works remain on display in Tennessee.


quintarantino said...

A very nice building.
As usual you provide us with lots of information.

smilnsigh said...

Beautiful building. Sorry that the school has fallen on such hard times.


Rambling Round said...

Very interesting history on this building. Hope they can save the art and the school.

Lady Di Tn said...

Great job on the pictures and the history of Fisk.
I would like to wish Kasey a belated happy burpday.

Southern Heart said...

I had no idea how lovely Fisk is, and I've been so impressed with your photos. It is so sad that the school is having a rough time. I wonder if they could loan the collection to another museum in TN for awhile?

FĂ©nix - Bostonscapes said...

♥♥ Happy Valentine's Day, Chris! :) ♥♥

Jim said...

It is sad that we force colleges like this to try to sell art to survive. The campus has beautiful buildings.