Let councils sell our great works of art – just don't let them vanish

A week in arts: Are cuts justification enough to ignore an artist's wish? Plus: the cultural attractions of train stations and how the Indy's arts desk became a star

Share

It's almost comforting, in a "some things never change" kind of way, to see that a Henry Moore sculpture has provoked an almighty row. It's almost comforting to see the old, very old, battle lines drawn once again – the great and the good of the art world arguing the brilliance of a Moore sculpture, and town councillors wanting to sell the damn thing and make millions.

What has happened is that Moore gave his notable work Draped Seated Woman to Tower Hamlets council in London's East End in the early Sixties for a knock-down price of £6,000. He wanted it displayed for the public in East London and wasn't too concerned about market value. It was a wonderful gesture from a socialist sculptor.

Predictably, the sculpture was subject to graffiti and the council decided to display it in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, more than far enough away from graffiti artists, but also rather a long way from the Tower Hamlets public that Moore had intended it be seen by.

Now the council has realised that the sculpture, once nicknamed by locals "Old Flo", has a market value of up to £20m, which at a time of huge budget cuts is a tempting prospect. This provoked the head of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota, and others including film director Danny Boyle, artist Jeremy Deller and Moore's daughter Mary, to pen an open letter arguing that the move "goes against the spirit of Henry Moore's original sale" and the artist's "demonstration of the postwar belief that everyone, whatever their background, should have access to work of art of the highest quality." It sounds mighty convincing, until one remembers that the sculpture intended for people of the East End has been in Yorkshire for 15 years. Nevertheless, one gets their point.

By the time you read this, the council may have reached a decision on the matter. But whatever the decision, it's not the end of the matter, because with arts cuts soon to bite again nationally, Tower Hamlets is unlikely to be the only council eyeing up its cultural treasures.

In the light of that, what is needed now is not just a blanket refusal to allow any selling off of publicly owned artworks, but a more flexible policy to ensure that they stay in this country and, even if bought by a private individual or company, have to be on public show for certain periods of the year.

This entails Government involvement, legislation, and a change of attitude by the great and the good in the art world to balance a recognition of the difficulties of the financial climate with a determination to see that the public is not deprived of cultural treasures.

I'm in no doubt that Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman is the first of many objects to be at the centre of a struggle between cash-strapped councils (or even museums and galleries) and the champions of publicly owned art in the coming year.

There must be a new legal framework to ensure that the artworks stay in Britain and can be seen by all of us. And the champions must learn to be flexible.

Alight here for a cultural attraction

I have long been intrigued by how some stations on train and Tube lines puff their local cultural attractions on the platform, while most don't. Who makes these decisions and how are they made? Recently I was on a train that pulled into Winchester, home to a reasonably well-known cathedral and a reasonably well-known school. But the sign on the station proclaimed proudly: "Winchester, home of Winchester School of Art." Excellent. I don't know who runs the Winchester School of Art or who is on the board. But someone there has admirable pulling power.

The Indy arts desk is becoming a fiction staple

In the new play NSFW by Lucy Kirkwood at the Royal Court, Charlotte the bright Oxford first is working at a lads' mag when she is told she has an interview for a job on the Independent arts desk. This follows the film Tamara Drewe, in which Gemma Arterton was said to be working for The Independent arts desk. Why have screen and stage writers decided that a metaphor for moral high ground should be The Independent's arts desk? As the person who runs said desk, I clearly need to get out more and misbehave. Alternatively, Gemma and Lucy can come and do some work experience. It could be a horrible eye-opener for them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition