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Advert Averse: Anger as Morrisons turns the Angel of the North into a billboard

5 May 2014

The Angel of the North likes a fresh, cheap baguette – or so the people of Morrisons’ advertising department would have us believe. The Guardian reported yesterday that the supermarket chain had projected an advert for their bread onto Antony Gormley’s iconic sculpture, turning it into a giant billboard. With a wingspan of 175ft, it falls just 25ft short of the Clapham Junction ‘Colossus’ – the largest backlit advertising hoarding in Europe. I’ve been unable to find any images of the project, except the one in the original article, suggesting that it was shut down fairly quickly. Or perhaps the joke’s on us, and this is all part of a viral, online marketing campaign, fuelled for the most part by Photoshop and public indignation (and there was plenty) rather than projectors.

Either way, what next? A Whistles jacket on Whistlejacket? Kellogg’s Cornflakes on the fourth plinth’s Hahn/Cock? At least the US arms manufacturer that sent Michelangelo’s David off to fight Goliath with an enormous AR-50A1 rifle didn’t spot an opportunity to create an avenging angel. Antony Gormley, who created the work in 1998 as a monument to the region, has been surprisingly philosophical about it, commenting: ‘I’d rather the Angel is not used for such purposes, but it’s out there’.

More comment from Apollo’s Muse Room…

But while we expect and largely accept the corporate logos hovering at the edges of most new public art commissions and museum displays, the UK public doesn’t take kindly to seeing its independent monuments turned opportunistically into marketing material. Twitter users variously called the Morrisons advert ‘despicable’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘crass’, prompting the store to issue a rather stale apology on their feed this morning:

The Morrisons stunt is, in a way, the inverse of the well-intentioned but perhaps misguided ‘Art Everywhere’ campaign last year, where instead of being turned into billboards, masterpieces of British art were plastered onto them in an attempt to edify the public on their daily commutes. I’m not convinced the programme, which didn’t think carefully enough about the most sympathetic sites and sizes for the featured works, encouraged people into museums any more than the Angel’s loaf of bread will direct people to Morrisons. Art and advertising have always had a rather antagonistic relationship, and lot of great paintings, it would seem, don’t weather well when you hang them by the side of the road.

Ironically, in terms of making people think about, discuss and defend art and its public relevance, the supermarket campaign might actually, accidentally, have the edge. I’m willing to bet that quite a few people, glimpsing Millais’s Ophelia draped tragically over roadside verges as part of ‘Art Everywhere’, wondered vaguely what she was selling. At least this way we’re reminded that – for all the cosy exchanges between culture and commerce these days – artworks themselves really shouldn’t be advertising anything at all.

Related Articles

Art and Advertising: friends or foes? (Joe Turnbull)

The New North? (Imelda Barnard)

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