Artist Bob and Roberta Smith explains why he thinks Tower Hamlets council should keep Henry Moore’s public sculpture Draped Seated Woman, known as ‘Old Flo’ on display in the borough.
As I write this, an important self-portrait work by Eduardo Paolozzi which has been on public display in Holborn since the 1980s is being prepared for sale by a London auction house. In February, Christie’s will sell an amazing Henry Moore which has a special meaning for London’s East End.
Hitler destroyed the East End, Henry Moore, with others, rebuilt it and now a council who seem ignorant of the area’s less recent past is selling off its principal monument to peace. For me it is like smashing up a war memorial.
Moore’s shelter drawings were the inspiration for this period of his work. It is terrible that the borough where scores of people died during the war in a tube station used as an air raid shelter at Bethnal Green does not have the imagination to see how wonderful Old Flo is as a symbol of our humanity.
Old Flo is an East End survivor. She is a generous and defiant image. She is so clearly drawn from Moore’s war artist work. Sitting on her plinth I imagine her to be taking air after some horrible near suffocation. The Mayor of Tower Hamlets should take a trip to Harlow and witness how amazing this kind of sculpture is not only for its formal values but for what it represents.
Artists like Liz Frink and Barbara Hepworth wanted their art in public spaces because in the post-war era people equated public space with freedom. It was in that era that the NHS was conceived and our institutions were made meritocratic and democratic.
In 2010 Chris Stephens curated a great show at Tate Britain looking at Moore’s relationship with post war culture. My God, that was some history lesson, but obviously one which the councillors of Tower Hamlets did not heed or even care about .
Old Flo is a Londoner sheltering from an air raid just like Londoners who died in the Bethnal green disaster of 1943
You can see Moore’s Shelter Drawings here on the Tate website. Here you will see Old Flo’s mother, her family, her sisters. How can we stop Old Flo and other important publicly-owned art works being sold by their guardians in councils up and down the land who have forgotten or could not care less about their significance ?
I will hold a public meeting this Saturday 3pm at Hales Gallery, 7 Bethnal Green Road. We need inventive and creative ideas to stop this sale.
So, what do you think?
Many commentators have argued for and against this sale. An open letter to the Guardian signed by prominent figures including Henry Moore’s daughter, Mary Moore and Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate urged Tower Hamlets to reconsider.
Do you have creative suggestions as Bob and Roberta Smith asks? Is there any justification for Tower Hamlets Council to sell a public artwork?