The Great British Art Tour: a blot or a beauty on Aldeburgh beach? | Art

THEA giant scallop rises from the gravel on the beach near Aldeburgh, Suffolk. The sculpture pays homage to the composer Benjamin Britten, who lives in Aldeburgh and who walked the stretch of coast between there and Thorpeness almost every day. It was made by the local born artist Maggi Hambling, an avid fan of Britten’s music.

The scallop shell, created in 2003, consists of two halves of a broken shell that are cast from steel. One half stands upright, the surface of the sea is polished and catches the shimmering light. The other half of the shell lies in the prone position and forms a kind of platform. High in the upper edge of the sculpture is the line “I hear the voices that will not drown” from Hambling’s favorite opera Britten, Peter Grimes.

Scallop: A Conversation with the Sea (2003) detail. Photo: Tony Wooderson / © the artist: Bridgeman Images

Hambling sees Scallop as more than just a sculpture. It should also be a shelter and seat, a place where visitors can rest and “ponder the mysterious power of the sea”. She wants people to interact with it: “If someone climbs on it to sit and watch the sea, or if a couple sneaks in under it to make love, then it is complete.” It was a labor of love for Hambling. She wasn’t paid to do it and was hard grafted to raise enough money to build it (sell some of her paintings to raise funds). It is a gift from the artist that everyone can enjoy.

However, not everyone appreciates it. Like other public sculptures by the artist (particularly her latest statue in memory of Mary Wollstonecraft), scallop has been the subject of controversy. Many locals and lovers of this stretch of coast were vehemently against placing the sculpture on the pristine beach at Aldeburgh, arguing that doing so would ruin the view. And it’s not just locals who loathe it. The Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones named it one of the six worst works in British public art in 2015. But there are also those who love it. Author Susan Hill is a frequent visitor to Aldeburgh and cannot imagine the beach without a scallop shell. She describes it as a “wonderful thing of strength and beauty” that looks different from every angle in the changing light. In addition, Hill knew Britten and is certain that he would have approved this homage to him.

Love it or loathe it, Scallop is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future at least. It was made to withstand the elements and so far has managed to weather the storm that surrounds it.

• More public sculptures on Art UK can be found here.

• This series is brought to you in partnership with Art UK, which brings the nation’s art together on a digital platform and tells the stories behind the art. The website features works by 50,000 artists from more than 3,000 venues including museums, universities and hospitals, as well as thousands of public sculptures. Discover the art you own here.

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