Name: Antony Gormley’s beach sculptures.

Age: 20.

Appearance: “Like something out of Ann Summers.”

I beg your pardon? Sorry, what about if I said “a vibrator collection” instead?

That’s also quite offensive. Listen, don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t write these descriptions; they’re by people who have to look at the artworks every day.

I’m going to need more explanation. OK: a collection of 1.2-metre-long cast-iron sculptures that each weigh up to a tonne were placed on Aldeburgh beach in Suffolk in August.

Art on the beach? That sounds lovely. Did Gormley put them there himself? No. He made the sculptures, entitled Quartet (Sleeping), in 2001. They were bought by Caroline Wiseman, an art collector, who subsequently put them on the beach “for the cultural benefit of the town”.

Quartet (Sleeping) by Antony Gormley on Aldeburgh beach
The sculptures were made by Gormley in 2001. Photograph: Caroline Wiseman

And is the town super-jazzed about it? Not really. Although Wiseman has called the sculptures “beautiful”, comparing them to sleeping seals, many residents have pointed out that they look a bit like, well …

Something out of Ann Summers? Exactly, yes.

Philistines! Not quite. Aldeburgh beach is also home to a sculpture by the artist Maggi Hambling – a giant scallop placed there in 2003 in tribute to the composer Benjamin Britten, a former resident.

How much did they have to shell out for that one? Oh, behave. You may know Hambling as the artist of a contentious sculpture in north London of the feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft.

What was wrong with that one? Many Wollstonecraft champions had waited decades for the heroine of the women’s movement to be honoured with the grandeur she deserved, only to find the statue of a naked figure a bit lacking in clothing.

Aldeburgh got off lightly, then. What will happen to the Gormley sculptures? That’s up to East Suffolk council. Wiseman has submitted a retrospective planning application for the sculptures to remain on the beach in the long term, but the fury of the locals may mean they are removed.

Seems a bit harsh. At least they aren’t likely to harm people. Not like Thomas Heatherwick’s B of the Bang sculpture in Manchester, a £2m collection of huge metal spikes that had to be fenced off in 2005 when the spikes started plummeting to the ground.

Ouch. What happened to that one? Part of it was melted down for scrap metal in 2012, raising £17,000 for the council.

Oh dear. While Quartet (Sleeping) may be open to phallic interpretation, it’s not nearly as suggestive as, say, Joep van Lieshout’s Domestikator, a 12-metre-tall geometric structure that appeared to depict bestiality. The Dutch artist’s work was so controversial that the the Louvre declined to show it.

But isn’t the role of public art to provoke debate by making people recontextualise their surroundings? Theoretically, yes. At the same time, some people don’t want to explain to their children on a nice day out why a man is fornicating with a dog.

Do say: “Gormley’s Aldeburgh sculptures look like something out of Ann Summers.”

Don’t say: “Ann Summers’ new line of one-tonne metal sex toys will be released later this year.”



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