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Museum debuts famous art collection

| Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Years of legal wrangling have ended, resulting in a renowned art collection that includes pieces by the famed American modernist painter Georgia O'Keeffe and her late husband, Alfred Stieglitz, making its debut in a museum in northwest Arkansas during the weekend.

O'Keeffe gave the 101-piece collection to Fisk University in Tennessee in 1949.

Then, last year, a Tennessee judge approved a deal for Fisk to sell a 50 percent stake in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art started by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. The university received $30 million as part of the agreement, which calls for the collection to be rotated every two years between the school and the museum.

Tennessee's attorney general had argued that selling any part of the collection would violate O'Keeffe's wishes. But officials with Fisk and Crystal Bridges say the deal accomplishes things that were very dear to O'Keeffe.

“When Georgia O'Keeffe gifted these works to Fisk in Nashville, she did so because she felt very strongly that you did not have to live in a big city to have access to great art,” Crystal Bridges' director of education and exhibitions, Niki Stewart, said Friday. “Crystal Bridges was built on almost the same idea. We wanted to be here in Bentonville, not in New York or L.A.”

About 220 miles northwest of Little Rock, Bentonville, Ark., is far from a big city. Home to about 35,000 people, the community is best known for housing Wal-Mart's headquarters. But it's been becoming more cosmopolitan since Crystal Bridges opened, attracting a boutique hotel and trendy restaurants that cater to locavores.

It's in that setting where officials of Fisk hope the Alfred Stieglitz Collection will find viewers.

“It's a big deal in terms of having a partner who we know will care about these works and that will reach out to new audiences,” Victor Simmons, director and curator of Fisk's galleries, said Friday.

The Alfred Stieglitz Collection first will be shown at Crystal Bridges in a temporary exhibition, “The Artist's Eye: Georgia O'Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Collection.” The collection features work from some of photographer and gallery owner Stieglitz's favorite artists, including O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and John Marin, alongside some of the early European modernists who inspired them: from Paul Cezanne to Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Admission to Crystal Bridges is free, but tickets to “The Artist's Eye” cost $5 for adults.

The exhibition opens to the public Saturday. It will be on display through Feb. 3.

After that, Crystal Bridges will set aside some of works in the collection that involve delicate, light-sensitive materials, Stewart said.

“Some of those works will go to rest, particularly those that are paper or fabric or wood,” Stewart said. “Those will go to rest in the vault, which would leave ... maybe slightly less than half of the exhibition to continue to be shown.”

Then, like a child at the center of a complicated divorce, the collection will go back to Tennessee in 2015.

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