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Monday, February 16, 1998 Published at 16:14 GMT


The angel has landed
image: [ The angel takes a rest before preparing to ascend ]
The angel takes a rest before preparing to ascend

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The UK's biggest sculpture, known popularly as the Angel of the North, has been officially unveiled on a site overlooking the A1(M) motorway in Gateshead on Tyneside, England.

With a wingspan wider than a Boeing 767, the 20m high by 54m wide steel sculpture seems destined to become one of north-east England's best known and most controversial landmarks.

The Chairman of the Arts council, Lord Gowrie, described the unveiling ceremony as the "most exciting and proudest moment" in his 30 years of public life.

[ image: Wider than a Boeing 767 but definitely not meant to fly]
Wider than a Boeing 767 but definitely not meant to fly
Variously described as "inspiring" and a potential death-trap for passing motorists, the 150-tonne body and wings stands on the site of the pithead baths of the former Team Valley colliery on Tyneside.

It took a convoy of three low-loaders, travelling at 15mph with a police convoy, five-hours to complete the journey on Saturday from Hartlepool Steel Fabrications Ltd on Teeside.

[ image: Proud father: artist Antony Gormley spent 800,000, mostly Lottery money, on his baby]
Proud father: artist Antony Gormley spent 800,000, mostly Lottery money, on his baby
On Sunday a large crowd gathered to watch as cranes and engineers began to raise the angel to its feet. Weather permitting, the work is expected to be completed by Thursday.

Designer Antony Gormley, a former Turner art prizewinner, was at the site to welcome his creation. He described the angel as inspiring feelings of space and said he was confident it would stand for at least 100 years.

[ image: Built to last: if it stands for 100 years, between 10 - 20 million are expected to inspect the angel close-up.]
Built to last: if it stands for 100 years, between 10 - 20 million are expected to inspect the angel close-up.
He also rejected criticisms that the sculpture would make Gateshead a laughing stock and should be known as the Hell's Angel or Angel of Death because it will allegedly distract passing motorists, causing them to crash.

"I think that's cultural cringe and it's a rather sad comment but I understand that some people do not want to be noticed. I've just tried to do my job and I'm very proud and very pleased today," he said.

"It's been an extraordinary day, really, really extraordinary. Hundreds of people have turned up and the feeling that I get from the atmosphere here today is like the best birthday party any sculpture could have."

But Councillor Ron Beadle of Gateshead Council, a longstanding critic of the project, said: "We've always said that if people wanted the scheme then it should go ahead but they should have been consulted about it earlier than this and consulted properly."

Fellow councillor Sid Henderson, however, said it was money well spent and part of the regeneration of Gateshead. "It's drawing attention to Gateshead. People will come and that's what we want," he said.

[ image: Antony Gormley: critics are victims of
Antony Gormley: critics are victims of "cultural cringe" factor
Earlier the council described the angel as a messenger for the great engineering skills of the region and the spirit of its people, "a figure that looks to the future with enterprise and optimism".

According to plans, first the body will be lowered into position, fixed to 52 bolts buried eight metres into concrete.

Then each of the wings will be lowered into position.

To stop the angel literally taking off in strong winds, the sculpture has been designed to withstand gusts of up to 100 miles an hour.

Gateshead Council, which has gained a reputation for promoting public art, believes that because the angel is by the side of a road and the East Coast Main Line railway, up to 90,000 people a day will see it.

It is also expecting 150,000 people a year to stop at the statue and have a closer look.

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Angel of the North Factsheet

Gateshead Council

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