one-off at the wrist

Any old iron

So the cause célèbre in East London this last few weeks is the placement/sale/ownership of public art. Always a tricky one when most confuse ‘worth’ and ‘value’. To my mind value is the monetary price placed on an artwork for insurance and collector’s bragging rights reasons, worth is a larger much more difficult to define arena. When great art houses say an artwork is ‘priceless’ they actually mean they can’t work out it’s worth [in terms of how it is regarded by the Nation / value to tourism etc] as all works will have been given a $£ tag for insurance purposes [all artworks being unique are of course irreplaceable].

Draped Seated Woman [aka ‘Old Flo’] , Henry Moore, 1957

Experts are warning of a wave of public art sales by local authorities after Tower Hamlets agreed to sell a Henry Moore statue, donated by the artist on the understanding it would be left permanently on open-air display for the enjoyment of people in a socially deprived area of London.

The Guardian, 7th November 2012

I feel for the local authority; seemingly in a no-win situation. On the one hand they have a £100 million deficit to somehow balance  [in an area of some of the worst deprivation], on the other they have an artwork which easily attracts vandalism/graffiti and even risks theft [and arguably until recently wasn’t even that well known]. The 1.5 tonne work was given to the people of the East End as a ‘gift’ for a knock-down price in 1962 by the artist to be erected on a working-class council housing estate, but was sent to Yorkshire Sculpture Park for ‘safe keeping’ when the estate was pulled down in 1997.

One of the main issues is who actually owns artworks bought by local councils, with locals’ money and for their benefit? Especially when sold at under market value by an artist wishing a populace to have access to their art. A much trickier situation though is when artworks are actually privately owned but being visible to the public for a long period of time become regarded as publicly owned.

The Artist as Hephaestus, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1987.

This privately owned, giant bronze statue by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi [which I have to confess I thought was merely an OTT advertisement for a trendy upmarket pizzeria the first time I happened across it] had been on public display in central London for 25 years on the pavement in front of a private office at 34-36 High Holborn [who’s facade was designed around it] but I noticed two days ago the the niche is now empty.

Of course in both of these examples [though by no means a perfect solution] a possible compromise would be to have high quality replicas made and installed? Afterall it is a common practice for artworks on display in National galleries.

A frightening fact is that there is no national audit of public art in England and no at-risk list. Many public sculptures are not listed at all [Councils often don’t even know what artworks are in their area]. Indeed according to English Heritage, less than 15% of the estimated 10,000 pieces of sculpture in public spaces are included on their register of listed buildings. A large number of works are ‘orphaned’;  no one knows who they’re by or who owns them.

The Artist as Hephaestus sold at Bonham’s this week for £140,000.

Draped Seated Woman is expected to be sold at Christie’s in February 2013.


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One thought on “Any old iron

  1. gettesgallery on said:

    You had me at *Henry Moore*…

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