We are all familiar with the Angel of the North, Anthony Gormley’s twenty metre high, fifty-four metre wide figure standing on a hill near Gateshead in the north of England. Modelled on Gormley’s own body it is possibly the most notable achievement of immortality, a notion the sculptor would have had, if only sardonically, at the back of his mind. Its wings stretch out as if to embrace the surrounding country and its people, and welcome visitors to the area. They also expose his body thereby earning the more prosaic title of the Gateshead Flasher. Ten years after its installation the controversy has all but died away, its economic outlay of around a million pounds ($2.5M) being handsomely returned by way of the overseas tourist dollar and the more intangible international prestige.
Now we can look forward to the Angel of the South as it has become known. At a somewhat desolate area in north Kent that was all but abandoned after the mines closed, a train station known as Ebbsfleet has been built. This is part of a huge regeneration project. A large interchange for the continental trains, that is all there is at the moment, would not seem to warrant the erection of a sculpture forty to fifty metres high that can be seen for twenty miles, but that is what is planned; as well as a new town of 10 000 homes with all its infrastructure. This sculpture will be seen by 40 million people each year, by train, by car and on foot. The commissioning of this landmark sculpture, with a budget of $5million to get it started, has been underway for a couple of years, the finalists of Richard Deacon, Christopher Le Brun, Mark Wallinger, Rachel Whiteread and, the only non-Brit, Daniel Buren, were given three months to produce their proposals (Google them up). The winner may well be announced before this goes to print.
At the other end of the sculptural scale, and this too in England, a country not known historically for its extremes, is the work of Willard Wigan (another Google search). A gallery showing his work looks like a medical laboratory; the rows of microscopes on benches around the room giving it more the air of the school stinks lab. than a sanctum of art. Peering into the 3D lenses reveals a world in miniature. To answer the perhaps rhetorical question, How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?, Willard would reply, Well, quite a few really: And inside the eye of a needle? Henry the Eighth and his Six Wives!
These sculptures are invisible to the naked eye; and liable to loss by inhalation, as was Snow White. Although sometimes he starts with a fleck of gold or diamond he mostly carves them from tiny pieces of nylon and puts the finishing touch of paint with a hair from the head of a house fly.
A collection of 70 of his pieces that you would hardly notice in the palm of your hand was insured by Lloyds for nearly $30million which makes the Angel of the North look ridiculously cheap. Big ideas come in all shapes sizes; I look forward to seeing your big idea in our Annual Show in September.