Monday, February 19, 2018

Standing the test of time

Happy twentieth birthday to the Angel Of The North. Today, the sculpture enjoys iconic status as a symbol for the north-east, always a welcome sight when it comes into view as you approach Gateshead and Newcastle heading north on the A1 - for me, a sign that I'm almost home. Hard to believe, then, that it originally faced fierce opposition from local politicians and press, art critics and members of the public alike - as this BBC piece recalls.

Antony Gormley's vision was only approved by Gateshead Council by a quirk of fate - the fact that councillors opposed to it were absent from the deciding vote proving critical. That was only part of the battle, though. Gormley, "not wanting to force his work on a local population who did not want it", was on the verge of throwing in the towel (he had to be persuaded to persist by councillors), while there were also significant engineering headaches to deal with.

The challenges were overcome, though, and the Angel was finally erected in February 1998. Gormley has identified one particular incident as marking or effecting "a real cultural shift" as regards public perceptions of the sculpture: its temporary clothing in an Alan Shearer shirt by Newcastle fans ahead of that year's FA Cup final. Gormley claimed, rather patronisingly, that this indicated "it was all right to talk about art" in the football-mad, masculine culture of the north-east; I'd prefer to see the act in more straightforwardly symbolic terms as signalling acceptance and claiming the Angel as one of our own.

It never looked back, and Gormley's own bond and affinity with the region was further cemented through Domain Field, a project that was created in the north-east, directly involved local people and was one of the first major exhibits at the Baltic in 2003.

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