Tower Hamlets Council’s decision to go ahead with the controversial sale of a Henry Moore sculpture has received widespread criticism from celebrities, art lovers and local residents.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s decision to sell ‘Draped Seated Woman’, the 1.6 tonne bronze sculpture valued at £20m, was strongly opposed by public figures including Boris Johnson, Danny Boyle, and Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota.
Rahman gave a statement saying that he made the decision “with regret” but did so out of a “duty to ensure residents do not suffer from the brunt of horrendous cuts”.
When ELL spoke to Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Joshua Peck, he described the sale as symptomatic of the council’s “gross financial mismanagement”.
He said: “This sale is an effort to plug a £44 million black hole, and the proceeds will be swallowed in it.
“What’s more, the statue was a gift to the East End from Henry Moore in the 60s. It is part of this area’s working class heritage, and to sell it is a travesty.”
Residents at the council meeting on Wednesday that determined the sculpture’s future discussed the merits of a sale in light of Rahman’s promise to pump the proceeds back into poorer parts of the borough.
Ray Gipson, 72, from Bow said: “As a resident of Tower Hamlets, I think that if they can sell it and put the money back into the community – into social housing, for example, like the mayor is suggesting – it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Prior to the council meeting, the Museum of London Docklands had offered to insure and display the sculpture, nicknamed Old Flo, in order to keep it in the borough.
A spokesman for the museum expressed their “extreme disappointment” at the sale, but was unable to comment on whether the institution would bid for the artwork at a proposed Christies auction.
Queen Mary, University of London, had also investigated the possibility of housing the statue, noting its “special local significance”. However, discussions have stopped in light of Rahman’s decision to sell.
Boris Johnson said: “More could be done to enable ‘Draped Seated Woman’ to remain in East London.”
ELL discussed the sale with Edward Matby of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. He described the decision as “grotesque” disagreeing with it on principle.
“[Rahman] is making this sale in an effort to look good, but you can’t sell off one public good against another.”
Matby believes the sale will do little to relieve the burden of cuts.
“Mayor Rahman can do any clever amount of wheeler-dealing on the quiet to make things easier. He can choose where to make cuts. But ultimately the only thing that’s going to stop what the Tories are doing is to defy them.”