Grace Dent: If Morrisons understands the region so well, what the hell is it doing despoiling Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’?

This magnificent monument belongs to the people, not to any supermarket chain



If anything, I should thank the supermarket Morrisons for defaming Antony Gormley's Angel of the North by turning it into a grotesque billboard flogging crusty white bloomers. The supermarket projected an ad on the artwork on Sunday evening. Think Gail Porter’s arse on Big Ben but patisserie-based. Yes, thank you Morrisons, I didn’t realise how passionately I felt about the angel until some berk with an advertising budget territorially pissed allover its majestic 54-metre wide celestial reach.

Well, I say berk. The ad has influenced berks like me to write about it, name-checking the supermarket while drawing attention to the fact that while Gormley's angel bestows her silent blessing over the North-East, meanwhile Morrisons is giving us, this day, our daily bread, and at a price more saintlier than Lidl.

News of the sponsored vandalism reached me via the usual channels of Twitter moaning minnies and semi-professional bed-wetters who spend all day on social media re-tweeting woe about the “state the Government have put us in” while their pot-plants wither and their children breakfast on Maltesers. I try, largely, not to rise to their bait but, here I was, frothy of mouth, boggle of eye.

The Angel, I felt in this surge of ire, belongs to the people. It is not anyone’s to be pimped. Gormley built it - he cites this as one of the angel’s purest messages - as an historic tribute to the land where coal miners worked for more than 200 years. This is a tribute to the true beginnings of Britain, more relevant to the common man than history books full of monarchy, court gossip and pomp.

The Angel also, I felt, belonged to me. I’d invested in it, fell in love with it every single time I’d travelled north from London, was slapped around the face yet again again by its looming, haunting industrial prettiness. Every time I saw it on the horizon and that twinge in my cheek stopped short of a tear and I mumbled for the 20th time, “I bloody love that angel”.

In the South we swim with daft, fanciful, whimsical conceptual art. In London one could paint oneself purple and sit on a commode in the park eating boiled eggs, and 90 per cent of people would purposefully ignore you so as to deny you the oxygen of attention and 10 per cent would think your artistic endeavour worthy of a Turner Prize nomination.

In the North it is different. Modern, challenging art exists for the public, but it is rarer and more likely to be stifled and challenged by cost and lack of clear intention. In the 70s I grew up in a place where art was demanded to have a distinct purpose, poetry had to rhyme and scan, and modern dance was just folk “making a clip of themselves”. When Gormley's angel appeared - a hulking brutal lump of metal in tribute to the north’s past and future - and people embraced it, loved it, took day trips to see it, it moved me greatly. 

I am reluctant to attack Morrisons for not understanding the north - or even insulting the north - because a trip to Morrisons for the Friday night big shop – six Eccles cakes for £1, an all-day breakfast in the cafe and putting your lottery on at the ciggie counter - is about as “parochial Northern leisure time” as I can conjure.

Morrisons doesn’t just understand the north, it is part of its very fabric, which is why tampering with the Angel - believing its customers will give a slack-jawed thumbs-up - is so misplaced. I am prepared to forgive them for this discretion as their bread is very tasty. But if they touch the Gormley sculptures on Crosby beach - my friends, they sleep with the fishes.

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