Nicholas Serota told a public inquiry that the centre would 'significantly change' the landscape the late sculptor carefully created for the works on his estate. Proposals to convert into offices a gallery, painted in Moore's chosen grey and lit by natural light from above, would 'unnecessarily destroy . . . the sole surviving example' of 'his simple and very direct approach to the problem of displaying sculpture indoors'.
Trustees of the Henry Moore Foundation, who want to build the modern centre, a study and conservation building at Moore's Perry Green estate near Much Hadham, were 'not properly fulfilling the responsibility which they hold', Mr Serota said.
The foundation, established in 1977, nine years before the sculptor's death, is appealing against a decision by East Hertfordshire District Council rejecting an application for planning permission. The proposed development has soured relations between the foundation and Mary Moore, the artist's only child, who opposes the plan. She and Sir Alan Bowness, the foundation's director and Mr Serota's predecessor at the Tate, are no longer speaking.
Although not every part of Moore's estate was 'sacrosanct', Mr Serota said the proposed visitors' centre, incorporating a 'viewing tower', would be an unwanted 'lighthouse'. It was surprising that the foundation planned to use as stores Moore's maquette, woodcarving and white studios which gave 'a unique insight' into his working practices.
Stephen Levrant, a historic buildings and conservation architect, said that because Moore intended visitors to view each sculpture in its own 'aesthetically pleasing setting' and to come upon them by surprise, the proposed observation tower would 'at a stroke, destroy' his 'teachings and beliefs by trying to give the visitor a panoramic view'.
Plans to convert Dane Tree House, 'one of only two examples of Henry Moore experimenting with architecture', were 'as damaging and as ludicrous as altering one of his sculptures'.
Last week David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, turned down a request from Ms Moore to list the house.
The Hertfordshire Conservation Society told the inquiry in Much Hadham village hall that the 'aesthetic bickering' between the foundation and Ms Moore was 'demeaning to the memory of Henry Moore'. The inquiry was adjourned until 22 September.