The Museum of London has offered a permanent home for the Henry Moore sculpture which Tower Hamlets Council is considering selling for up to £20m to ease budget cuts.
Plans to sell the ‘Draped Seated Woman’, a three-metre bronze piece made by Moore in 1957, have attracted criticism from leading arts figures.
However, the Museum of London’s director, Sharon Ament has urged the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman to house the sculpture at one of their sites.
“The Museum of London’s offer to put the Draped Seated Woman on free, public display would enable everyone to enjoy and derive meaning from this significant artwork.
“As the leading museum for London we would help build an enduring cultural legacy for the affectionately named Old Flo,” she said.
Moore, the son of a miner and a life-long socialist, sold the sculpture to London County Council in 1962 for £6,000 – far below its market value, with the condition of it being displayed in deprived locations to enrich the lives of residents.
The sculpture, nick-named ‘Old Flo’ stood on the Stifford Council estate in Stepney until it was moved in 1997 to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park following vandalism.
In September, following campaigning by Tim Archer, Conservative councilor for Blackwall and Cubitt Town, the sculpture was due to be returned to Tower Hamlets.
However, a report by council officers concluded it was too dangerous for the statue to return to the area as it would be target to vandalism and metal thieves.
The council also rejected a plan to place the 1500kg sculpture in public display under supervision of the Canary Wharf Group, saying “the Canary Wharf Estate would have the benefit of a prestigious artwork without having to purchase it”.
Instead, Mayor Rahman said the best option would be to put it up for auction in order to deal with ” unprecedented” budget cuts.”
In a letter to the Observer last Sunday, film-director Danny Boyle and Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota urged Tower Hamlets Council to re-consider its plan.
The open letter raised concerns over the proposal, saying it “goes against the spirit” of the original sale. It is also signed by Mary Moore, the artist’s daughter, as well as artist Jeremy Deller, Richard Calvocoressi, director of the Henry Moore Foundation and architect David Adjaye.
Local MP’s Rushanara Ali and Mary Creagh also added their names.
While there is no official estimate, the council said bidding could reach £20m.
Mayor Rahman said: “We are faced with a stark choice in these times of recession.
“Do we keep this valuable sculpture in Yorkshire or do we try to sell this globally important artwork in order to release much needed funds to invest in local heritage projects we can sustain, affordable housing, improving opportunities and prospects for our young people and keeping our community safe?”
But Sir Nicholas called the council’s decision “a one off, selling the family silver.”
Speaking to the Guardian, he said Moore had “sold it on the understanding it was going to be placed in the middle of a public housing development in Stepney. His expectation was that it would stand close to council housing and would therefore be seen by people who lived in council homes and form part of their environment.”
The letter’s signatories said they “appreciate that times have changed” and that the “costs of protecting the sculpture are demanding.”
It continued: “We believe that there are a number of sites in the borough where the work could be safely placed for the benefit of the community. We hope that Tower Hamlets will reconsider and find a suitable location that continues to honour Moore’s idealistic vision.”
A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said: “Like other councils, we are considering how best to use our assets to generate much-needed funds to invest in local heritage and priority projects.”
A final decision is expected to be made by the council on Wednesday. In the meantime, Eastlondonlines went out onto the streets of Tower Hamlets to ask people what they thought of the controversy.
The petition to keep Old Flo in Tower Hamlets can be found here.