UK art world slams council for sculpture sale plan

LONDON Mon Nov 5, 2012 9:59am EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Leading figures in the art world, including Danny Boyle who oversaw the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, have urged a council in east London to reconsider plans to sell off a valuable Henry Moore sculpture in order to pay its bills.

Tower Hamlets is expected to decide on Wednesday whether to go ahead with the proposed sale of Moore's 1957 bronze "Draped Seated Woman", which is around eight feet tall, weighs over 1.5 metric tonnes and is estimated to be worth up to 20 million pounds ($32 million).

The council is considered one of London's most deprived areas and faces budget cuts of 100 million pounds over the next three years.

While local authorities across Britain struggle with painful spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit, prices for top works of art have soared in recent years making them more expensive to insure.

"The value of art is diminished by being monetarised," Boyle said in a statement on Monday. "The Moore sculpture defies all prejudice in people's minds about one of London's poorest boroughs. That alone makes it priceless to every resident."

Moore, the son of a miner with left-wing political leanings, sold the work in the 1960s for below its market value on the understanding that it should be put on public display for Londoners to enjoy.

It was installed in the new Stifford housing estate at Stepney Green, but when the estate was demolished the sculpture was loaned to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in northern England.

Last month, Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman announced proposals to sell the sculpture in order to cope with growing economic pressures. The council did not immediately respond to requests for further comment on the plans.

Large public sculptures have been targeted in recent years by thieves interested in their scrap metal value.

In 2005 another large bronze Moore sculpture "Reclining Figure", worth millions of pounds, was stolen from the estate of the Henry Moore Foundation and was never recovered.

In an letter published in Sunday's Observer newspaper, Boyle and other leading figures from the art world including Moore's daughter Mary, said selling the sculpture would run counter to Moore's wishes.

"The presence of the sculpture in Stepney was a demonstration of the post-war belief that everyone, whatever their background, should have access to works of art of the highest quality," it read.

"We appreciate that times have changed and that the costs of protecting the sculpture are demanding, but we believe that there are a number of sites in the borough where the work could be safely sited for the benefit of the community."

Estimates of the value of the work affectionately nicknamed "Old Flo" range between five and 20 million pounds.

The artist whose public works became increasingly familiar in the 1970s, fell out of fashion for a period, but in the last five years Moore prices have recovered strongly.

His auction record of 19.1 million pounds was set at Christie's in February for "Reclining Figure: Festival".

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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