Damien Hirst’s Verity: Would You Want a Vivisected Pregnant Woman on Your Seaside?

The British artist's latest work, 'Verity' — a massive bronze of a pregnant woman — has left residents of the British resort town of Ilfracombe at a loss for words.

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Photographed by Steve Russell © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Damien Hirst's sculpture "Verity" being installed in Ilfracombe, UK.

Damien Hirst’s latest artistic endeavor was erected on Tuesday afternoon by the English seaside, and it’s not exactly being greeted as the toast of southern Devon. The bronze statue, named Verity, stands 65 feet tall, weighs more than 55,000 lbs and has been placed on the boardwalk of the resort town of Ilfracombe. On his website the artist explains that the piece was created as a “modern-day allegory for truth and justice”, inspired by the Edgar Degas bronze Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. However, Hirst’s version is somewhat different in style to the intricately designed figure created by the French artist in 1922.

From one side, Hirst’s statue shows a pregnant woman standing nude with her arm reaching up into the sky. From the other, it’s a detailed tour of the female anatomy — from her muscles, bones and breast tissue to the fetus in her stomach — that owes more to Gunther Von Hagens’ plastinated cadaversthan it does to Degas. The statue’s upthrust arm holds a sword, representative of justice; behind her back she hides a set of scales.

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Damien Hirst is not an artist known for subtlety. Famous for dissecting animal carcasses, collecting live butterflies in a room and decorating a skull with diamonds, the British artist makes a point of going to the extreme in order to shock his audience. Fascinated by questions of life and death, it is unsurprising that he has decided to focus on the pregnant woman and her unborn child for his most recent piece. Unfortunately, many of the residents of Ilfracombe are unimpressed by the art installation that will reside in the harbor for the next twenty years.

“This is not great art,” wrote Gwyneth Barnes, a resident of Northam, in a letter of complaint to the North Devon Council. “It is a meretricious attempt at acceptance by modeling the lovely figure of a young girl and adding a brutal slash to reveal the fetus. Soft porn masqueraded as art.”

“I understand a Damien Hirst statue is of great importance to the town but I do not feel that this particular statue is the right one for the harbor,” added Margaret Holman from Ilfracombe, who also complained to the council.  “We have high teenage pregnancy and this idea of a pregnant woman at the gateway to our town does nothing to help our problems.”

(MORE: A Talk With: Damien Hirst)

The Guardian’s Jonathon Jones weighed in as well, likening Hirst’s bronze to the self-applauding monoliths of totalitarian regimes:

“It is a banal image, cast in metal in a way that gives it an unjustified air of authority. It looks exactly like something you might have seen in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

Some more positive reactions could be found on Twitter, with other local residents welcoming the arrival of the naked statue with enthusiasm.

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Local Ilfracombe councillor Mike Edmunds hopes that Verity‘s arrival will improve tourism in the area, writes the BBC. “We’ve relied, as a holiday resort, on our natural charm and beauty, but that’s not enough in the present day” explained the councillor. ” Hotels are closing, so we’ve got to so something to boost the economy and we’re looking at the arts as a way of encouraging visitors.”

VIDEO: TIME Meets Damien Hirst