Hazel O’Leary, the Art Dealer

by Nathan Harden

Former energy secretary Hazel O’Leary has taken to dealing in fine arts. O’Leary, you may recall, resigned from Bill Clinton’s cabinet under a shadow of controversy stemming from mismanaged travel expenses while in office.

In her current role as president of Fisk Univeristy, O’Leary is seeking to sell a $30 million stake in a collection of work once owned by the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Fisk, a historically black university located in Nashville, is deeply in debt and needs the money, according to O’Leary. But Tennessee’s attorney general is seeking to block the sale, arguing that O’Keeffe never intended the art to be sold when she donated it to Fisk.

O’Leary has stated that the university cannot afford to properly maintain the collection.

In O’Leary’s defense, it does seem better to let Fisk sell the art work than to let it suffer damage. But my guess is that the will of the donor, not the financial exigencies of the university, will prevail in court. 

Fisk has been trying to sell various portions of the collection since 2005.

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