Henry Moore put me in jail

January 2016

A Henry Moore exhibition has just returned to the UK after touring in the Balkans. There it proved a huge success, demonstrating the value of art for UK influence abroad. Henry Moore has a long history in the region, but has not always been so welcome there - as one Albanian artist found out to his cost.

Henry Moore and his foundation left hundreds of works to the British Council. The British Council has been immensely fortunate in acquiring the only significant art collection owned by an international cultural organisation anywhere in the world, of which the Henry Moores form a vital core. The collection works very hard touring internationally – shipped out in the British Council’s distinctive cornflower-blue packing crates. 

The collection plays an important role in building knowledge of British art and supporting the UK’s profile and influence abroad

The collection plays an important role in building knowledge of British art and supporting the UK’s profile and influence abroad. It has been shown to help forge strong long-term links. In 2012 a previous Moore exhibition toured to Moscow and cemented a valuable relationship with the managers of the Kremlin galleries. This led to the gift of a statue of Yuri Gagarin to the UK, that in turn helped pave the way for the Russia:UK Year of Culture 2014 and the major Cosmonauts exhibition currently showing at the London Science Museum. These activities have helped keep UK:Russia cultural contact flourishing through a time of political tensions. 

The Power of Radical Art

Now there is a free exhibition of Henry Moore’s printmaking on display to the public in the British Council’s gallery at its offices in Spring Gardens, London. It has been installed there after returning from a successful tour of Central Asia and the Balkans, where the artworks did an important job as ambassadors for the UK. The exhibition played a central role in the re-opening of the Serbian National Gallery in Belgrade, which is now taking part in museum capacity-building and cultural heritage exchange programs with the UK. The show also attracted tens of thousands of visitors and significant press and social media attention. It helped cement the cultural relationship between the UK and Serbia and support the UK’s reputation in the country – an important outcome given the legacy of the 1990s Balkan conflicts. 

Henry Moore himself visited the Balkans in the 1950s, and his work influenced artists in the region. However, this influence was not always welcomed by the ruling regimes at the time. The power of radical art to provoke and challenge was highlighted dramatically when one Albanian artist, Maks Velo, was imprisoned for eight years under Albania’s Communist government for being influenced by Henry Moore. Here Velo himself describes what happened

Alasdair Donaldson, Senior Policy Analyst and Insight Editor