Built on the site of disused pit head baths Angel of the North was meant as a soaring testament to the toil of Gateshead’s generations of miners as well as a powerful symbol of the region’s post-industrial aspirations.
Yesterday however a leading supermarket chain was forced to apologise after it provoked uproar for using the vast aeroplane wings of Antony Gormley’s landmark sculpture as a billboard to advertise the cut-price cost of a French loaf.
Morrisons said it beamed a projection of a giant baguette bearing the slogan “I’m Cheaper” onto the artwork on Friday night in a bid to promote its new low-cost strategy aimed at tackling the rise of discount supermarkets Lidl and Aldi.
But the stunt was widely denounced on social media and elsewhere as “cultural vandalism”. Mr Gormley, who has always insisted on the artwork appearing unlit was also unhappy over the co-option of his most famous piece.
“I’d rather the Angel is not used for such purposes, but it’s out there,” he said.
The supermarket said it had not meant to cause offence. “We're sorry if you thought we got carried away with our latest marketing. We were trying to have some fun and didn't mean to offend anybody,” it said.
A spokeswoman said the advert was meant to raise “conversation” about the price cutting initiative as well as “generating intrigue.”
However Morrisons was unable to confirm that it had permission to use the Angel for advertising purposes prompting speculation the picture could have been computer generated.
Linda Green, holder of the culture portfolio at Gateshead Council which commissioned the artwork two decades ago, said she was unaware of any requests to use it and would have opposed the licensing of the iconic image if she had been consulted.
“I find it strange that they have done this. We do use the Angel on some advertising for the North East as a visitor destination but I wouldn’t like this at all. I wouldn’t agree to that,” said Mrs Green.
Both Mr Gormley and the council have in the past strongly opposed efforts to exploit the image for commercial purposes including attempts by Tourism Ireland to illuminate it with a green light.
Comic Jenny Éclair was among those to condemn the advert. “Angel of the North being used to advertise a shitty supermarket (or anything) makes me burn with fury,” she Tweeted.
Author Patrick Ness described it as “philistine and disgraceful”. Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said: “I doubt very much that they had permission for this. Antony Gormley clearly never intended the Angel to be used like this, and Morrisons should know better. This is just tacky.”
An on-line petition signed by dozens of people urged Gateshead Council leader Mick Henry to prevent a recurrence of the stunt. “Defacing our public art, whether through criminal damage or commercial advertising, is deeply offensive to the people of the North,” it said.
Last week Morrisons announced a major new TV and poster advertising campaign designed by agency DLKW Lowe to promote its £1bn price-cutting fight back against the discount retailers.
In 1998 Newcastle United fans used fishing line and catapults to dress the Angel in a 30ft football shirt bearing the name of the club’s legendary striker Alan Shearer.