Collected Works: Art
Angel of the North
by Antony Gormley
Public art, sculpture
Driving north on the A1, gazing blankly out of the window, we are met by an arresting, celestial presence. A behemoth of steel, the Angel of the North casts a reassuringly sturdy silhouette against the changeful northern cloudscape, its colossal wings stretched out in greeting. It seems to hover over the Tyne valley, aloof and otherworldly, yet its giant, rusty feet are planted solidly on a mound in Gateshead, inviting visitors to swarm around and behold its ageing patina in friendly proximity.
Antony Gormley wanted the work to ‘be a focus for our hopes and fears’, to look ahead into the age of information. Though the world has changed rapidly and irrevocably since the faceless angel first gazed out from Low Fell, its great bulk now seems emblematic of our expectations prior to the year 2000. Its futuristic exoskeleton evokes robotic technology, its voluminous wings suggest space exploration, and its imposing structure touches upon the apocalyptic visions that shrouded the new millennium.
Precisely because of its high profile and immense form, the sculpture has had its fair share of detractors. Much of this opposition has come from the people of Gateshead, whom the work was intended to speak for. But the part that it played in the town’s cultural rejuvenation testifies to the power of art that thrusts itself upon us. Expanding into our vision, the iconic angel offers us either a reflective moment of escape from the here and now, or a jubilant affirmation of it.
The environment surrounding Gormley’s work is perpetually shifting, altering daily as light and weather conditions fluctuate, and, more imperceptibly, as the years pass by. Standing tall in its fierce fusion of mechanical, divine, and human anatomy, the angel is a stationary observer, overseeing the living Tyneside landscape. Both a familiar guardian and a monument to the coal industry that once thrived beneath it, the Angel of the North appears as a creature from an older time, one written into the mythology of its homeland.
Words by Emma McKinlay
Question of the day
Human Toilet Revisited, a photograph by Sarah Lucas. Here, the lavatory serves both as gloriously grotty subject and studio. Lucas perches, knees to chest, on the throne. (→)
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