It's a very big herring ... but is it art?

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The Independent Online
THIS IS a tale of a giant herring, an oversized crab and two sleepy Norfolk seaside resorts. When the citizens of Cromer set up a millennium committee to look around for ideas to mark the turn of the century, they settled on a sculpture that would reflect the town's heritage.

Cromer is, of course, noted for its crabs; so a crab, the local millennium committee decided, it would be. But not just any crab: a huge 100ft abstract concrete and metal image of two claws thrusting skyward on the cliffs overlooking the town.

Last week the plan was unceremoniously dumped after being put to the vote at a special meeting of the town council, partly on the grounds that it would have been built on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The decision has prompted an acrimonious dispute over whether the rejection of the plan amounts to a lack of artistic appreciation or a two-fingered salute to trendy modern excess.

But there must be something in the air along the Norfolk coast: neighbouring Great Yarmouth, not previously noted for its cutting-edge approach to the arts, has given its blessing to a 120ft sculpture of a giant herring vertically balanced on its tail as a tribute to the town's former fishing industry. The stainless steel "Silver Darling of the East" will be Britain's tallest permanent sculpture, located at the mouth of the River Yare.

There is more to the herring than meets the eye, according to sculptor Stephen Vince, who had been poised to start work on the crab. He designed the fish in the tradition of standing stones such as Stonehenge. "There is an actual fish, the herring, to commemorate the fishing fleet and Yarmouth's history as a herring port," he said. "But the fish shape also represents the year 0 and the birth of Christ, while its rocket shape projects towards the third millennium."

Not surprisingly, the pro-crab and pro-herring brigade take their inspiration from the Angel of the North, the 65ft high sculpture by Antony Gormley which has provided Gateshead with much-needed positive publicity.

The mood must be contagious: yesterday the finishing touches were being put to Tyne Anew - a massive three-legged crane-like sculpture north of the Tyne. Six feet taller than the Angel of the North, it will be Britain's tallest sculpture - for the time being.

Supporters say the two East Anglian sculptures would enable both towns to move forward rather than sideways - crablike, even - into the next millennium. But not all agree. "The crab design could make Cromer a laughing stock," said Julie Davies. Her husband Richard, a coxswain and crab fisher, added: "It's utterly disgusting, and the claws look like two dead trees."

The crab would not have cost Cromer a penny - the fee for Mr Vince would have been covered by sponsorship and merchandising. In return, the town could expect free publicity and a rise in the seasonal tourist trade.

But at least Cromer has not followed the example of the Suffolk fishing town of Lowestoft, which also considered commissioning a sculpture from Mr Vince before deciding the money would be better spent on a sewage outfall pipe.