The people of Ilfracombe, England have a lot of feelings about Damien Hirst, and you can't blame them. To start with, the world's wealthiest artist (who keeps a house in Ilfracombe, a resort town on the Devon coast) loaned his adoptive seaside home a not-exactly-longed-for gift in the form of Verity, a gigantic bronze statue of a pregnant lady with visible innards and questionable interpretive value.
Now Hirst is expanding his sights. His next step in Ilfracombe is to build a town on its outskirts, like some kind of art world version of Mr. Henry F. Potter.
The North Devon Journal has details on Hirst's Southern Extension project, which was greenlit Wednesday. Dubbed Hirstville by critics (ahem), the 875-acre plot "will be home to 750 houses, shops, a new primary school and health care facilities. Sports pitches, woodlands and allotments are also planned."
Remember this jolly addition to the Ilfracombe skyline? Photo by Getty.
As with Verity, whose prominent placement at the harbor entrance drew ire, Southern Extension is divisive. Some are calling it a vanity project that will disturb wildlife, destroy the aesthetics of the small town and put unneeded pressure on its road with an influx of rich Londoners (only 10 percent of the homes are designated as low income housing).
On the other side, Ilfracombe council members who voted in favor of the project cite job creation and population growth, both consequences sleepy seaside towns may not want, but often need in order to survive.
Perhaps the most scathing review so far comes from Daily Mail columnist and Ilfracombe resident Robert Hardman, who wrote about Southern Extension when it was still being debated over last December. Hardman attacks Hirst more than he does the project, but the two, he argues, are intertwined. Comparing Hirst's latest endeavor to his flashy artwork -- the pickled shark, the diamond-encrusted skull -- he posits that Southern Extension is yet another "lucrative triumph of hype over common sense."
Hirst does seem to see Ilfracombe as mere setting for temples to himself. Of the many institutions he's already backed in the town, few if any seem to take residents into account -- unless everyone in Ilfracombe is as obsessed with Hirst as he seems to be. Here's Hardman's list:
He’s got his own restaurant — with pickled fish on the wall in homage to that infamous pickled shark — and is in the process of building a café three doors down. In between is his art gallery, where £4,000 will buy you a limited edition print of one of Hirst’s trademark ‘spot’ paintings...Just up the road from the port, he has a hotel project underway...By far the most obvious Hirst imprint, however, stands at the entrance to the harbour.
Verity, that is, though her days as Hirst Imprint No. 1 are numbered. Detailed designs must still be submitted for Southern Extension before work can begin, but for all intents and purposes, Hirstville is a go. We're betting that park holds a pickled shark or two.
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