WHAT would you think if Liverpool City Council started selling off its public art to help subsidise struggling services?
Would you exclaim “Brilliant! There’s been a big crack up the middle of our road for ages. Perhaps now they’ll finally get round to fixing it”?
Would you hope they’d use the proceeds to knock a bit off our council tax or to help improve local schools?
Or would you chain yourself to the nearest Superlambanana! and refuse to budge until it was gifted back to the city?
Perhaps it would depend on which piece of public art they planned to sell. Would you be as quick to lie down in front of the cherry picker coming for Stephen Fox’s Palanzana (which resembles a giant piece of seaweed and is hidden under the city centre flyover where hardly anybody sees it anyway) as you would in front of Antony Gormley’s Another Place iron figures on Crosby Beach (although in that case it would Sefton Council selling it off).
This month, London’s Tower Hamlets Council made the unpopular decision to put its Henry Moore sculpture, Draped Seated Woman, up for sale, citing harsh government cuts as the reason.
Unpopular that is with Olympics opening ceremony director Danny Boyle, Tate director Nicholas Serota and artists Jeremy Deller and Rachel Whiteread, who all wrote a letter begging the council to reconsider, but not so much with the 55% of readers of the local newspaper that voted in favour of the sale.
Moore died in 1986 so is unable to give his opinion on the situation, but we do know that he sold the work to the council in the 1960s for less than its market value and that he created it as one of several sculptures for housing estates and new towns built on the sites of World War II bomb damage.
It’s unlikely then that he would have wanted it sold, and indeed the sculptor’s daughter, Mary Moore, has added her signature to those calling for a U-turn.
Scandalously, the community “Old Flo” (as she’s affectionately known) was created for has been prevented from enjoying her presence since the 1990s as she has been in Yorkshire Sculpture Park since her original location was demolished.
Tower Hamlets Council seems to feel it has no choice in such challenging times – putting the chance to add between £5m and £20m to its thinning resources over allowing its residents to keep a sculpture that, according to Danny Boyle, “defies all prejudice in people’s minds about one of London’s poorest boroughs”.
Well, for many decades, Liverpool was one of the nation’s poorest cities – and some of its wards remain among the most deprived in Europe – but the thought of selling off our public art leaves me cold.
The sculptures that stand in our streets are more than an asset to be sold to the highest bidder. They are part of our identity – it’s like unloading the city’s accent or sense of humour to make a quick buck.
Besides, sometimes there’s money to be made by leaving them exactly where they are.
Since Damian Hirst’s Verity, a 66ft-tall bronze statue of a pregnant woman with her internal workings exposed, was erected at Ilfracombe harbour on a 20-year loan last month, it has reportedly caused an influx of visitors.