So with little of interest to report on the Tube I’m turning to another non-work related issue, Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman. Moore sold the 1.5 ton, 3m tall bronze statue to the LCC for the knock down price of £6000 in 1960 on the condition that she be put on public display in a deprived area. “Old Flo” sat on the Stifford Estate in Stepney until 1997 by which time the LCC had been replaced by the GLC and when that was abolished she passed into the hands of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She’d suffered numerous acts of vandalism over the years and with the estate due for demolition the council thought it best to move her to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield.
And there she stayed, mostly forgotten, apart for a rare trip down south for the Henry Moore retrospective at the Tate two years ago where she sat by the front entrance greeting visitors and where I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance. According to the East London Advertiser it was around this time that the Tower Hamlets Conservatives discovered her whereabouts through a FIA request and started clamouring for her return. Maybe one of them is an art lover and saw her at the same exhibition that I did.
Later that year the good voters of Tower Hamlets elected Luftar Rahman, an independent, as their mayor. He’d been a Labour councillor since 2002 and leader of the council since 2008 but after a bit of scandal over connections with an Islamic fundamentalist group he was de-selected as their candidate. Simply put Rahman is a bit of a political chancer in the style of George Galloway or Derek Hatton, he splashes cash around on his pet projects while at the same time pleading poverty, in that respect he should get on famously with Boris.
Numerous places have been proposed that would offer her a safe home including Queen Mary College on the Mile End Road and Victoria Park but Tower Hamlets say with insurance costs and the risk of metal theft they can’t afford to put the statue back on public display in the borough. They have a very good point, two sculptures have been stolen from the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire in the past few years; “Sundial”, worth £0.5m, was stolen earlier this year and recovered a few days later but a 2 ton reclining figure, est. value £3m, was taken in 2005 and has not been seen since. The thieves used a crane to lift it onto a truck and the whole thing was captured on CCTV; so much for security.
According to council sources the proposed sale of Old Flo would raise up to £20m but there are a fair number of experts who think that the figure would be much lower. As it is £20m would be a drop in the ocean, Tower Hamlet’s budget is around £3bn and they are looking to make savings of around £100m, any suggestion that the money raised by the sale would make any significant difference is laughable. Despite that the residents of Tower Hamlets are generally in favour of selling the statue with opposition mostly coming from the art and media world.
Boris has naturally stuck his oar in saying that Tower Hamlets should rethink the sale but without mentioning that they will be paying TfL £2m for extending the bike hire scheme into the borough. Both sides are making political capital out of the issue, Rahman gets to turn the spotlight on how Coalition cuts are effecting one of the most deprived boroughs in the UK while his opponents get to shout about his £1000 a day “consultants”, £100k spent redecorating his office and £1500 a month for a chauffeur driven Merc leaving Old Flo sat quietly in the middle.
For myself I think it’s time to stop all the public arguments, for those who want to keep her in London to get together somewhere quietwith Tower Hamlets and cut a deal that keeps Old Flo in London