Tower Hamlets is one of the less well-to-to London boroughs. Until recently, it was planning to auction off a Henry Moore sculpture of “Draped Seated Woman,” with an estimated value of about $32 million to reduce its deficit over the next few years. The sculpture is on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in northern England. Selling publicly owned art to compensate for insufficient budgets in the tough economic times is derided on both sides of the ocean. Here also, the proposed sale drew much criticism as short-term fix and a dangerous precedent. However, the plans to sell Moore through Christie’s auction house were put on hold after the Art Fund charity challenged ownership of the sculpture. Apparently the piece was sold by Moore in the 1960s at little price with an understanding that it would remain on public display in London. At the time of sale, the painting was under ownership and control of Greater London Council, dissolved as of 1986. At the time, the sculpture was physically located in the Borough of Tower Hamlets but whether title passed to Tower Hamlets or not is uncertain. Art Fund has been quoted as saying that “Ownership must be established be established beyond reasonable doubt before a work of art can be sold.”
Tower Hamlets must respond to the challenge by December 3, 2012.
Tower Hamlets’ ownership of the bronze sculpture, Draped Seated Woman by Henry Moore, was called into question last night following new research into the details of the transfer of ownership of the work from the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1985. The sculpture was created by Henry Moore in 1957 and acquired in 1962 by the London County Council for the new Stifford housing estate at Stepney Green. When the GLC was abolished in 1985, ownership was thought to have passed to Tower Hamlets but lawyers acting for the Art Fund charity and others say new research may prove this to have been incorrect. The bronze sculpture, nicknamed “Old Flo” was installed on the Stifford council estate in 1962 but was removed when the estate was demolished in 1990. It was re-sited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1997. In October this year, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman announced his decision to sell the sculpture after “unprecedented” budget cuts. Moore, a well-known socialist, sold the sculpture at below market value on the understanding that it would be displayed in a public space and might enrich the lives of those living in a socially deprived area. It was bought by the LCC as part of a wider regeneration programme to improve the lives and living standards of Londoners after the devastation caused by WWII. Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, and Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, in whose constituency the sculpture is currently on loan, have opposed Tower Hamlets’ proposed sale. Over 2,500 people have signed a petition to “Save Old Flo”, and to keep the sculpture in Tower Hamlets. Leading figures from the art world, including celebrated film director Danny Boyle, Henry Moore’s daughter Mary Moore, Director of The Tate, Nicholas Serota and Jeremy Deller have voiced their opposition to the sale. London Mayor Boris Johnson has also urged Tower Hamlets to reconsider the sale. Following public outcry at the proposed sale, Labour Councillors have tabled a motion at this evening’s council meeting demanding the sale of the sculpture is put on hold whilst other options are investigated. 1. On Tuesday 6 November, Councillors met to discuss and review the Mayor’s decision to put the sculpture up for auction at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting. The Council recommended that the Mayor of Tower Hamlets should notsell the sculpture. 2. On Wednesday 7 November, the Mayor and his Cabinet met to review the Councillors’ decision and recommendations. The Mayor confirmed his decision to auction Old Flo and said he would not consider alternative options.