Future of Old Flo to be discussed again this evening

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It's a rare occurrence when councillors of different political hues, an international film-maker and a Docklands museum all speak with passion about the future of just one woman.

But this is no ordinary lady - it's Henry Moore's sculpture of a Draped Seated Woman, affectionately known as Old Flo, which was gifted to Tower Hamlets Borough Council and initially installed in the Stifford Estate.

Last month, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman decided to explore options to sell the artwork, which some have estimated to be worth up to £20million, at auction next year.

The statue is currently housed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and following last month's meeting, the Mayor said the sale of the sculpture could release "much-needed funds" for the area.

This prompted outrage from Conservative members sitting on the council, who immediately called discussions back to the table for consideration by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Cllr David Snowdon, leading the call-in on Tuesday, said: "I believe it's time for the Tower Hamlets residents to have full enjoyment of this piece of work.

"Quite simply, we have a major, internationally-known piece of artwork by an internationally-known sculptor and not enough people have seen it."

He added: "It could be seen that the Mayor has become a philistine, not only selling off the artwork of this borough but not giving due regard of the enjoyment and culture benefits could be accrued by the people of Tower Hamlets by it being back here."

Cllr Snowdon also raised concerns that the Mayor had not explored every possible option to keep the sculpture in the borough, a point he said was supported by a letter from the Museum of London Docklands offering to host the artwork, while flagging up potential legal and financial issues.

Labour ward member Joshua Peck said names of other potential sites had also been added to the mix, including Christ Church Spitalfields, Morpeth School and Queen Mary University of London, which he said was quoted a £2,000 fee to insure the sculpture for a year-long period.

Speaking at the meeting Sharon Ament, director of the Museum of London Docklands, vowed the Moore sculpture could be housed at the site "for public enjoyment" and without requiring a transfer of ownership from the council.

She said her team had already received offers to help transport the statue, as well as help with insurance issues and possible participation in the government indemnity scheme.

"We are a free museum," she said.

"We would work to ensure there are public programmes developed around the statue for the people who live in Tower Hamlets and come to visit the museum.

"I think this statue is something we should all be proud of rather than viewing it as a nuisance."

But Cllr Rania Khan, Cabinet member for culture, accused councillors who called-in the decision of standing up for the "fat cats and cultural elite".

"For 13 years noone has mentioned it [the Moore sculpture], noone has talked about it," she said.

"Some didn't even know it existed. As a politician we have to make some difficult decisions at times.

"When I see 12 people living in the same flat or there's pensioners freezing, we have to sometimes make difficult decisions.

"Yes, it's a beautiful piece of art but that £20million would go a long way, especially at this time in this climate.

"We are here to support the most vulnerable in our community and I am really disappointed that some councillors are using this as political point-scoring."

Heather Bonfield, interim service head of culture, said the council had looked into putting Moore's creation in Victoria Park, but the open aspect of the site meant it was not a viable option for insurance purposes.

She added that following general investigation into insurance prices, the council was advised the work "was not insurable" due to the potential risk of metal theft.

But councillors sitting on the committee broadly agreed not enough work had been undertaken by the council to explore options to relocate the statue in the borough, and referred the issue back to the Cabinet for further consideration at its meeting today, Wednesday.

"I am fearful and pessimistic that the Executive has made up their mind and they want to get their hands on the cash to use it in a way they see fit," said Cllr Tim Archer.

For the outcome, see next week's issue and updates at wharf.co.uk.

2 Comments

Robert Erskine said:

If the sale goes through Henry Moore's Artists Moral Rights pertaining to sited public artworks will be infringed.

Moore stated clearly the terms of the original sale to the council. They will infringe the agreement.

Susanna Heron said:

I agree- if removing it from public ownership and free public access is against the artists intention , then it is my understanding too that it would be an infringement of Artists Moral Rights under European Law.