Condemnation to celebration: The Angel of the North in 20 years

“Nazi” and “monstrosity” were just some of the words used to describe the Angel of the North when it landed on a Gateshead hilltop by the A1 in 1998.

In 1989, Gateshead Council reclaimed the site of the former pithead colliery baths and decided to earmark it for a future landmark sculpture, following their plans to bring more art to the city.

As well as acting as a reminder of the coal miners who worked in the dark for two hundred years, the selected creator, Antony Gormley, an internationally renowned sculptor, said that the public art was designed with a number of other functions:

“I wanted to make an object that would be a focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the north-east, abandoned in the gap between the industrial and the information ages.”

He added that the wings had been deliberately fixed 3.5 degrees forward to “give a sense of embrace”.

However, the 200 tonne steel figure that stands 20 metres tall and has a wingspan of 54 metres was not welcomed with open arms from everyone living in the North East. Many residents branded the work as a “waste of money” when its £800,000 price tag was revealed.

20 years on, the structure is considered one of the most iconic in the North East, rivalling the reputable Tyne Bridge for the title. It is also the UK’s most-viewed work of art, greeting an estimated 90,000 commuters on the A1 and the East Coast main line every day.

In a survey conducted through Durham University, 76 per cent of Gateshead residents said that the Angel of the North makes them feel proud and 69 per cent believed they would feel deprived if it was removed.

Speaking about the landmark, Gormley said “It is a huge inspiration to me that the Angel is rarely alone in daylight hours,” suggesting that the North East have finally taken the Angel under their wing.

In celebration of the Angel’s 20th anniversary, Gateshead Council have been encouraging people to share their memories of the Angel of the North through social media platform Twitter, using the hash tag #Angel20.

Over the years the Angel has watched over a number of special events, including: marriage proposals and a balloon release in memory of Bradley Lowery, a North East child who lost his life to Neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.

The most famous event was of course the Angel’s very own welcome to the city, when a group of Newcastle Football supporters christened it with its 30 foot football shirt. A moment Gormely describes as the moment the Angel was accepted.





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