Sunday, November 06, 2011

Who owns Henry Moore's "Knife Edge Two Piece"?

LONDON. In 1967, Henry Moore and the Contemporary Art Society donated Knife Edge Two Piece (1962-65) to the United Kingdom. The bronze sculpture has since stood directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, admired by millions either in person or through its televised appearances in the background of news programs and becoming somewhat of a national emblem. However, the work is "badly discloured and covered with incised graffiti" and because to date it has not been possible to establish its legal owner, no one will assume responsibility for the restoration of the work. Another unfortunate consequence of this apparent legal loophole is the inability of the British Council to loan Knife Edge Two Piece for display in international exhibitions such as the Moore retrospective at the Kremlin in Moscow. According to The Art Newspaper, the British Council could not determine to whom the loan request should be addressed "though it now seems that there might have been no legal impediment to prevent the Council from simply sending the sculpture to Russia." The trade publication meticulously followed the "paper trail" in an attempt to reveal who owned the sculpture but to no avail.

At this point, it's imperative that legal advice be sought (question is, by whom) to put this matter to rest and restore the work to its intended state. But could it be the case that no one in fact owns the work? When a person owns property, whether real or personal, his/her testament or, if the person dies intestate, the relevant jurisdiction's intestacy laws (the Intestacy Rules in England and Wales), establish who the successor owner is or owners are. Yet when it's a non-human legal person that owns property, the situation is arguably quite different. Perhaps the Crown is the residuary taker as under intestacy though that likely wouldn't solve the question of which public body is ultimately responsible. Despite Moore's seemingly erroneous recordation of the City of London as the owner of the gifted sculpture, much of the evidence points to the City of Westminster as being the recipient and caretaker of the work: "both the Contemporary Art Society and the Henry Moore Foundation said that their records showed that it is owned by the City of Westminster (which is recorded in the official Moore catalogue raisonnĂ©)" and Abingdon Street Gardens -- where the work has stood since 1967 -- are owned by the City of Westminster. Why it is that Westminster Council refuted ownership is unclear but surely that must be the starting point of the next forensic expedition to establish who owns Knife Edge Two Piece.

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