Will Damien Hirst's bronze statue Verity regenerate Ilfracombe?


Damien Hirst pregnant woman sculpture divides Ilfracombe

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The artistic merit of Damien Hirst's giant bronze statue of a pregnant woman has split opinions in Ilfracombe, but it also raises the issue of the role of public art in regenerating a town.

She has been called outrageous, immoral, bizarre, obscene, offensive, disgusting, grotesque, a monstrosity, of no artistic merit and demeaning to women.

Others see her as beautiful and unique, with the power to transform a town's tired image and boost its economy.

This week Damien Hirst's 20.25m (66ft) bronze artwork - known as Verity - is being installed in the Devon seaside town of Ilfracombe.

Start Quote

Art divides people.”

End Quote Councillor Mike Edmunds

The artwork is on 20-year loan from controversial artist Hirst, who lives locally and owns a restaurant in the town.

The naked pregnant figure stands looking out from Ilfracombe Harbour, sword held aloft, with part of her anatomy exposed - a baby visible in the womb.

The decision by North Devon Council to grant the statue planning permission follows months of vigorous debate by both the "yes" and "no" camps.

"We need to have a second string to our bow," says Ilfracombe councillor Mike Edmunds, who can see the new arrival from his bedroom window.

Verity statue Sword aloft: Artist's impression of how Verity will look in Ilfracombe

"We've relied, as a holiday resort, on our natural charm and beauty, but that's not enough in the present day. Hotels are closing, so we've got to do something to boost the economy and we're looking at the arts as a way of encouraging visitors."

Mr Edmunds sees Verity as the "first part of a jigsaw" that would see other works of public art introduced to Ilfracombe.

That might include an arts trail linking Verity to the town's redeveloped Landmark Theatre - notable for its white conical design dubbed "Madonna's Bra".

Mr Edmunds admits there have been strong feelings about the choice of artwork. "Art divides people, and the one thing about Verity is that because it is so controversial it will attract people to the town. I can't see in my own mind why there was such an outcry that it was so offensive."

Chloe Hubbard, editor of of the North Devon Journal, says her letters page has been split over the Verity issue.


Verity Photographed by Steve Russell © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012
  • At 20.25m from plinth to sword-tip, Verity is slightly taller than the Angel Of The North
  • She weighs more than 25 tonnes
  • Verity is described a modern-day allegory for truth and justice
  • The figure's stance is taken from Edgar Degas' Little Dancer of Fourteen Years (c. 1881) referenced by Hirst in his earlier bronze Virgin Mother (2005)
  • She holds the traditional symbols denoting Justice - a sword and scales - though the scales are hidden behind her back
  • Hirst's website notes: "Without the perfect equilibrium enacted by the scales, the sword becomes a dangerous instrument of power, rather than justice"
  • Verity was made in more than 40 individual castings at Pangolin Editions foundry in Gloucestershire
  • The entire piece has been tested to ensure it can withstand high winds and sea spray

"We first reported on it eight months ago and we've had letters every single week. I haven't known any subject to have such a long-running interest. Even now Verity's arrived we are still getting protest letters, so people are clearly riled.

"There are people who think it's going to make money for the town and boost tourism, but then there are those who think it doesn't reflect what Ilfracombe's about, and are quite offended by it."

Ms Hubbard thinks Verity may attract a different type of tourist to the seaside resort.

"Ilfracombe is not the most affluent area and anything that can bring money into the area has got to be viewed as a positive thing."

She adds: "Certain parts of the media have massively hammed this story up, saying that the locals are out with their pitchforks and don't want this in the town. That isn't what's happening."

Before North Devon Council passed the planning application this summer, it had received 100 letters of objection and 177 letters of support of Verity.

Among those objectors was Sue Dale, owner of Ilfracombe's Darnley Hotel, who has now had the chance to see the statue for real.

Her opinion has not been swayed. "I think it's more hideous than I did before, and it isn't suitable for a Victorian seaside town," she says.

"I think it's disappointing that the money and the ideas couldn't have been spent on a proper attraction to encourage people to come to Ilfracombe 52 weeks of the year.

"I've not said we shouldn't have anything there, but I think the statue might be a two-minute wonder. It's not for me and I don't think it's suitable for our harbour."

Mrs Dale is relieved that her hotel does not have a view of he statue. "I feel very sorry for people who may have to look at it every day."

She adds: "I think we'll have to live with it and hope it doesn't become an eyesore with pigeon and seagull droppings and vandalism."

'Great claims'

The aesthetic debate aside, among the arguments in support of Verity was that it would "put Ilfracombe on the map", update the town's image and boost the local economy.

"Great claims have been made about public art and the big criticism is that it hasn't really lived up to those claims," cautions Jonathan Banks, chief executive of public art think tank Ixia.

In the case of Antony Gormley's Angel of the North, in Gateshead, he points out that it has been difficult to assess its economic impact separately from other regeneration projects.

"There is a belief that it has changed the perception of the North East [of England] but quantifying that as an economic benefit is a bit more tricky."

The Angel itself was the target of a "stop the statue" campaign in the 1990s.

Verity Photographed by Steve Russell © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012 In pieces: Verity being prepared for her trip to Ilfracombe

"These things tend to grow on people," says Mr Banks. "Over time these sculptures do become symbols of their regions, and replace other symbols or negative images."

The economic downturn and changes to arts funding, he says, have meant a decline in the commissioning of monumental sculptures.

Verity is different in that she is a long-term loan from the artist.

"Public art has moved on quite a long way from these large-scale sculptures. There's a slight tiredness around them. It's become a quite formulaic part of the regeneration agenda," says Mr Banks.

"If the intention was to give Ilfracombe an economic boost then best have an artwork of national or international interest to generate the visitors to see it.

"But then there is there issue of how much the artwork has to do with local people and who the artwork is actually for."

Hirst's work has long stirred up controversy and the artist told the BBC earlier this year that he always tried to ignore the negative reactions.

A Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern in London this summer was the most visited solo show in the gallery's history. Works by Hirst on show included a shark suspended in formaldehyde and an installation comprising a room of live butterflies.

Criticism this week by the RSPCA of the butterfly work, and the recent outcry over Verity, indicate that Hirst's ability to polarise opinion is showing no sign of subsiding.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Each unto their own I guess. Personally, I have no idea how Damien Hurst has managed to hoodwink the general population & art "experts" for so long. Good skills Damien, it just shows that it is possible to fool all of the people all of the time....!

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Is it Art?

    Does it serve a useful purpose? NO
    Does it generate revenue and yield a profit? NO
    Is it created and publicly displayed without an element of taxpayer subsidy? NO
    Does it unite folk in appreciation of it? NO
    Do people who have it displayed in front of their homes have a choice about its location? NO

    If NO to all the above then it is ART.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Like some others I am not usually a fan of Damien Hurst but I like this statue. I also like the Angel of the North - I think there are lots of benefits to having something so striking in your area but I have never been to Ilfracombe therefore don't know now it will sit there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    It is well crafted but the idea of putting the statue of a pregnant woman on a plinth has already been done in Trafalgar Square. The anatomical detail is (as already pointed out) old hat. This is not the first nor the last time that Damien Hirst plagiarises. Most of the art value (and it is impressive) comes from his underpaid helpers. I hope they earn their due credit in the course of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Glad this is not being put anywhere near I live! Somehow a beautiful naked pregnant woman has been turned into something a bit grotesque. Not a good sculpture.

    Art out on public display in a public place should be safe, non-controversial, and pleasing on the eye. It should fit with the surroundings. Everything else should go into galleries, museums or into peoples’ own homes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    The mistake here is referring to Damien Hirst as an artist. He is about as much of an artist as David Blaine is a magician. They both make their livings by exploiting the gullible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    I love Verity and have to say she has already done her job of putting Ilfracomb on the map. Whether you love it or loathe it, is simply personal opinion, it is most certainly art. More please . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    I do,'t know what it will look like in the "flesh " but in the photographs it is a monstrosity and looks like something created for DR Who. Methinks that as an artist Hirst does a marvellous job as a con man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    @145 I agree. I don't particularly like much of Hirst's work, but this is an interesting statue and will certainly draw people to the town.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Meh, it's ok. Could do with some diamonds though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Good of them to put it up in Ilfracombe: that's hundreds of miles from here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Verity would create a great model for a Dr Who or Star Trek character or computer game. But as a work of art she lacks subtlety and leaves no room for a personal interpretation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Not a fan of Damien Hirst in the past, but this is absolutely fabulous.Very envious of Ilfracombe and it's people. Shame that so many people today are still being dragged down by Victorian values.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    There are an astounding number of people here who seem to think that "it's not art" is a strong argument. Perhaps these people would like to provide the accepted definition of art and state how this piece falls short. If they can't, perhaps they should shut up until they can think of a more sophisticated argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Beautiful sculpture, but absolutely the wrong place to put it. It is totally out of context with the stunning natural landscape and scenery of the harbour. Pity it isn't the pickled shark, at least that had a maritime connection!

    Perhaps Anthony Gormley would like to have a go at our next piece of town art. He understands how art and its environment should compliment and enhance each other!

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Absolutely beautiful.

    And best of all, it's upsetting so many of you who are so desperate to be offended.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Hirst is very good at getting people talking and thinking. What he seems to lack is originality. It should get people talking about Ilfracombe for a little while at least but is unlikely to regenerate the town.
    A rather dull unexciting effort by the Jamie Oliver of modern art.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Coming soon to a seaside near you... Giant Copper Man squatting with his pants down laying some "dirty cable" into the sea.... Its art so it will be tasteful and beautiful and provide 4G to the rural area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Well its caused a reaction and anything that causes a reaction is art.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Why is it that town councils that have created tourism based mono-cultures start to panic and use any means necessary to maintain the status quo?

    They should look elsewhere at income instead of trying to use gimmicks to prolong the agony.


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