A decade ago, Antony Gormley's 65ft sculpture, Angel of the North, was credited with placing Gateshead on the artistic map of Britain and starting a trend for large-scale public artworks nicknamed the "Gormley effect".
Yesterday, the nation's appetite for giant, multimillion-pound sculptures reached new heights as plans for five monumental public works for the North-east were unveiled. Their colossal size will dwarf any public artwork the world has ever seen. Designed by the Turner prize-winning artist, Anish Kapoor, and the structural designer Cecil Balmond it is hoped that the £15m venture to erect five "Giants" across the Tees Valley will raise the region's profile and, just like Gateshead, place this lesser-known area on the world's radar.
Standing a few miles from Gormley's iconic sculpture, Kapoor unveiled his plans for the first of the works entitled Temenos, a £2.7m steel structure that will loom over a recently regenerated site in Middlehaven in Middlesbrough. Over the next 10 years, four more sculptures will be installed at Stockton, Hartlepool, Darlington and Redcar. They will add up to the biggest public art project in the world, with each piece designed to reflect its particular landscape with an overarching "linking theme".
Kapoor will begin work on the first sculpture in the autumn and it is intended to become part of Middlesbrough's skyline by next summer. At just under 164ft high and 360ft in length, it will weigh 66 tonnes and comprise a series of circular rings of steel and cable, echoing the strong industrial heritage of the region, once famed for its "Transporter Bridge".
Joe Docherty, chief executive of Tees Valley Regeneration, said Kapoor and Balmond were chosen for their strong reputations for large-scale creations.
Kapoor, selected from an initial list of 500 artists nearly five years ago, is known in the area, partly due to the popularity of his Taratantara sculpture in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. The red PVC sculpture, 50m long, marked the Baltic's transition from a flour-mill in 1999 into a cutting-edge gallery.
Born in Mumbai in 1954, he represented Britain in 1990 at the Venice Biennale and won the Turner Prize a year later. Over the past 30 years, he has become well-known for his monumental, enigmatic structures. In 2002, he produced a snaking red installation spanning the length of Tate Modern's immense Turbine Hall entitled Marsyas. Two years later, he created a public sculpture, Cloud Gate, for Chicago, consisting of a 100-tonne sculpture of stainless steel plates to reflect the skyline and the clouds above. A 12ft-high arch provided a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture.
Kapoor said: "I relish the chance to work in an area like the Tees Valley where there is a real and growing appreciation of art and its place within resurgent communities.
"I have visited the area and welcome the prospect of playing a part in this renaissance from the start."
Mr Docherty said the commission was made in the same "daring spirit" as Gormley's Angel. "We love his ambition and his willingness to take risks. I think it will inspire passions. I remember that about 17,000 people signed a petition which tried to prevent the Angel of the North from being built. Not one of those people would admit to that now."
Ray Mallon, Middlesbrough's mayor, said: "I will be very interested to see what the public make of the piece, bearing in mind that the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder. When the Angel was unveiled, the public was split down the middle in their opinions on it, but today if anyone attempted to take it away there would be widespread anger because the Angel has become a potent symbol for the Tyneside area.
"In the same way, I believe this artwork, at the very heart of the regeneration work at Middlehaven, will become a symbol and focus location which can truly stand the test of time."
The project is bound to reignite a debate on public art, but it stretches beyond a debate on aesthetics. It is jointly commissioned by TVR, the Arts Council, Middlesbrough Football Club and private sources with the aim of attracting as much money as possible to the area and "changing the perception" of the Tees Valley.
The five works have yet to be awarded planning permission, Middlesbrough council said.
Installations that make a big statement
'Angel of the North'; Gateshead
Antony Gormley's 65-foot tall steel structure has stood watch over Gateshead since 1998. It is considered to be one of the most iconic public artworks ever commissioned.
B of the Bang; Manchester
The tallest of its kind in the UK, and, many believe, a result of the "Gormley effect". Thomas Heatherwick's 184ft-high sculpture was placed at the City of Manchester stadium for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
'Maman'; London and Ontario, Canada
Maman is a 30-foot tall spider by Louise Bourgeois. The artist, now in her nineties, was the first to be commissioned to fill the turbine hall at London's Tate Modern.
'The New York City Waterfalls'; New York
A recent example of large public art comes in the form of The New York City Waterfalls. Olafur Eliasson unveiled the $15.5m structures last month to a barrage of criticism.Reuse content