LONDON - The mayor of London on Thursday urged a cash-strapped local government not to sell an iconic Henry Moore sculpture that once stood in one of the city's poorest areas.
Entering a dispute that pits the value of art against the cold realities of austerity Britain, Mayor Boris Johnson said it would be "a tragedy" if "Draped Seated Woman" was not on public display.
But authorities in Tower Hamlets — one of the poorest of London's 32 boroughs — say they have no choice but to sell the artwork to help make up for funding cuts.
Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman said the decision to sell was made reluctantly, "but I have a duty to ensure residents do not suffer from the brunt of the horrendous cuts being imposed on us."
All levels of government are facing cuts as Prime Minister David Cameron's administration slashes billions in spending in a bid to curb the national deficit. Tower Hamlets Council says it must make 100 million pounds ($160 million) in savings by 2015.
Estimates of the sculpture's value range from 5 million pounds to 20 million pounds ($8 million to $32 million).
Arts figures including Moore's daughter Mary and "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle have led a campaign to keep the sculpture in public hands, and the Museum of London has offered to house it.
Moore, one of Britain's best-known 20th-century artists, sold the sculpture to the council's predecessor in 1960 for a token price in order to enrich the lives of the area's poorer residents.
The bronze sculpture, nicknamed "Old Flo," stood for years on a public housing complex in the borough. When the project was torn down it was moved in 1997 to a sculpture park in northern England.
Johnson said Moore had intended the sculpture "for the benefit of local people in Tower Hamlets."
"It will be a tragedy if nothing can be done to ensure it goes back on public display in the borough as originally intended," he said.