A Henry Moore in Tower Hamlets is worth fighting for, writes James Pallister
At the University of Newcastle, my eye was drawn to a triptych of black and white photos stacked to the right of head of school Graham Farmer’s neat workspace.
They were of Victor Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion, a key piece in the landscape of Peterlee, the new town built for east Durham’s miners, initially masterplanned by Berthold Lubetkin, then hurriedly finished by George Grenfell Baines (later founder of BDP).
He’d recently explored the legacy of the monument in a paper co-authored with John Pendlebury (due to publish in January in Journal of Urban Design). One of the slightly dispiriting observations it made was that whether they loved or hated it, residents were united in one view: resigned recognition that it belonged to an era that had passed, one where working people were deemed to be sufficiently important to have top class architects and designers spend time creating something just for them.
His observations brought to mind the recent controversy over Tower Hamlets’ intention to sell off a Henry Moore sculpture, on the grounds it cannot afford its upkeep. Draped Seated Woman, or ‘Old Flo’, was sold to the GLC in 1957 by Moore for a cut price of £6,000. It was used in the 1958 Stifford estate in Stepney. There are plenty of arguments both for and against the sale, though it seems the outburst of opposition has garnered some practical, cost-effective ways in which the sculpture could be kept.
If it is sold, the tragedy will be less about the residents of Tower Hamlets not able to see it (unless they travel to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where it has been for the past 15 years), but its symbolism. The council will have further degraded civic life, not just with another sell-off of state property, but by not fighting for the idea that ordinary people are worthy of outstanding housing, education – and art. According to Farmer and Pendlebury, the residents of Peterlee think that era has passed. It would be nice for Tower Hamlets to prove them wrong.
Read Journal of Urban Design, Routledge. Volume 18, issue one published Jan 2013