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Celebrations to mark Angel of the North’s 20th birthday

The 200-tonne sculpture has weathered all conditions – and a lot of early criticism – the become one of the UK’s best-loved pieces of public art.

Lenticular clouds form behind the Angel of the North in Gateshead
Lenticular clouds form behind the Angel of the North in Gateshead

Celebrations are being held to mark the Angel of the North turning 20.

Sir Antony Gormley’s 200-tonne steel figure took two days to erect beside the A1 in Gateshead.

Since then it has weathered sun, rain and snow to become one of Britain’s best loved and most recognised pieces of public art.

Before it was erected over February 14 and 15 in 1998, feelings about the Angel were mixed, with some anger at the £800,000 price tag and even complaints that it resembled a 1930s Nazi sculpture.

There were concerns about how the engineering would keep it upright during storms, that it might be struck by lightning and that its position by the A1 – passed by 90,000 drivers daily – could distract motorists and cause accidents.

The late art critic Brian Sewell even branded it a “totem” and “bad engineering”.

But the criticism has largely been forgotten as it has been embraced as a symbol of the North.

The sculpture weighs 200 tonnes

Press Association photographer Owen Humphreys has been taking pictures of the work even before it was erected.

He said: “I have covered it for more than 20 years.

“It has weathered so many storms but I don’t think it has changed colour much.

“I saw it when it was laid on the floor of the works and it’s not until it was stood up that you get the sheer scale of it.

There was some early criticism of the artwork

“I love it – as soon as you see it on the A1, you know you’re in the North.”

Owen would like to see the work lit up at night – something its creator Sir Antony will not support.

The Turner Prize winner has previously said the sculpture has worked its way into the hearts of local people.

Workmen putting the finishing touches to the artwork in February 1998

In the past he said: “The fact that the Angel is very rarely alone suggests that it has become part of everyday life for the people of Gateshead and the North East.

“I think that’s the highest test of success.”

That was first shown to the artist when Newcastle United fans draped a massive Toon shirt across the sculpture before the 1998 FA Cup final.

Councillor Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, said: “When we commissioned the Angel of the North, no local council had ever commissioned such a major work of art before.

It is situated near the A1 in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear

“The Angel of the North divided opinion at the time and continues to do so, though I think most people have grown to love it. And that’s what these celebrations are all about.

“The Angel of the North has become part of the fabric of our region and become part of people’s lives.

“That’s what we want to celebrate and that’s why we are asking local people to get involved by sharing their Angel stories, their photographs and their memories.”

The council is asking people to share memories using the #Angel20 hashtag.

A celebration with cake will be held on Thursday February 15 at the Angel.

Press Association

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