Artist Bob and Roberta Smith spoke out about two controversies roiling the art world last night at the Swarovski Whitechapel Gallery gala: Tower Hamlets trying to sell a Henry Moore sculpture and the poor state of art education in Britain. Smith (actually one man) said the former was ‘a mistake’ and the latter was at ‘a troubling moment of transition’.
Tower Hamlets Council wants to plug a budgetary hole by selling the Moore sculpture – officially called Draped Seated Woman but known as Old Flo – and the mayor has estimated it could raise £20 million.
‘That’s a bit of a mistake, selling Old Flo. Henry Moore loved Picasso and Guernica. Old Flo is a very “Keep Calm and Carry On” version of Guernica: a woman seeking sanctuary underneath the Nazi bombs like a woman seeking sanctuary from the bombs of the Stukas’ during the Spanish Civil War.
‘It’s very important to keep it in the country and in public ownership because it tells a story of East London.’
Pictured above: Old Flo by Henry Moore
The piece was given to the East End by London County Council in 1962, who acquired it from Moore for £7,400 (including a 25 per cent discount because it was to go into a public collection).
After various moves and changes of ownership due to political reorganisations, the sculpture has ended up on a long-term loan to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The ownership itself is in fact disputed: Bromley Council claim it is theirs.
SMITH ALSO SPOKE out about arts education in England, which many think is under threat because the government has excluded arts subjects from its ‘English baccalaureate’, which comprises English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.
‘It’s a troubling moment of transition… I don’t want to say I’m very class-based but it could be very difficult for people who don’t have that sense of aspiration through culture.’
Public institutions are attempting pick up some of the slack: the Whitechapel’s Art Plus Fashion gala raised £350,000 for its education programme, which reaches thousands of children and community groups each year.
The Guardian, writing about a report campaigning for more arts education, ImagineNation: The Case for Cultural Learning, said: ‘The study lays out the evidence that students who take arts subjects have a higher rate of employability, and those from low-income families who participate in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree.
‘It also suggests that arts activities increase students’ transferable skills by about 10% to 17%, and refers back to previous research that shows children’s cognitive abilities could be increased by 16% and 19% on average if they took part in arts activities.’
Pictured left: Art Makes Children Powerful by Bob and Roberta Smith
‘In this country,’ Smith said, ‘we’re so hung up on the idea of Two Cultures, like CP Snow’ – science vs the humanities. ‘What’s happened now is that the arts have been maligned to the advantage of science. It’s daft – we need to do both.’
He blamed the Browne Review of university education, which led to teaching grants in the humanities being removed, so they would have to be funded by tuition fees, not central government, while science kept government funding.