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Angel delight? Twenty years of the Angel of the North

16 February 2018

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

This week has marked the 20th birthday of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North. Overlooking the Sunderland-bound traffic speeding down the A1, the ‘Gateshead flasher’ has become as much a symbol of the north-east as the Tyne Bridge or St James’s Park. Indeed, as the Chronicle puts it, Gateshead would be ‘unthinkable’ without it. Perhaps this explains why some bright spark is attempting to market an Angel fancy-dress costume on eBay for £175…

Nevertheless, not everyone has been on message about the monument over the years: the late Brian Sewell described it as a ‘monstrosity’. More recently, the Angel has suffered no end of indignity as a prop for guerilla marketing campaigns. In 2014, the supermarket chain Morrisons was forced to apologise after it projected an image of a baguette stamped with its livery on to the sculpture’s wings. Later, members of the Vote Leave movement used the Angel as a billboard for its campaign to leave the European Union, prompting Gormley to intervene.

But not all attempts to co-opt the Angel have gone down quite so badly. In the run-up to the 1998 FA cup, Newcastle United fans conspired to dress it up a giant football shirt bearing the name of team captain Alan Shearer, securing acres of publicity and more than a little goodwill.

Gormley himself has credited the stunt as his sculpture’s ‘baptism’. ‘I thought “yes, now the Angel is being accepted”’, he told ITV. Lucky it wasn’t a Sunderland strip…

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.

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