Angel of the North displays supermarket ad

Altered image: Does making the Angel of the North into an advert demean it? © Michael Powell

Drivers near Newcastle were surprised this week to see that Antony Gormley’s colossal monument was temporarily promoting a supermarket chain. Is it marketing ingenuity or just bad taste?

Rising 20 metres from the earth, made from 200 tonnes of steel and with a vast wingspan of 54 metres, Antony Gormley’s gigantic sculpture, the Angel of the North, is one of the most recognisable pieces of contemporary art in the UK. It is visited by over 150,000 people a year and more than 90,000 drivers roar past it every day on the A1 motorway, just outside Newcastle.

But on Sunday evening, in an effort to win back customers from cheaper competitors, the struggling supermarket chain Morrisons decided to project an image of a baguette on to the majestic wings of Gormley’s masterpiece.

The news that the monument had been turned into a giant advert has left its creator unimpressed. ‘I’d rather the Angel is not used for such purposes,’ commented Gormley.

When the Angel of the North was installed in 1998, Gormley had a clear vision. It was a reminder of the north’s coal mining past: ‘Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now, in the light, there is a celebration of this industry.’

Famous landmarks and works of art have long been used to sell products. In 1925, André Citroën, founder of the car company, rented the Eiffel Tower and for nine years the Citroën brand name was emblazoned across the iconic landmark, using 250,000 lights.

John Everett Millais’s famous 1886 painting ‘Bubbles’ was used to sell Pears soap for decades, and celebrated works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo have all found their way into adverts promoting products as diverse as clothing, cars and controversially, betting companies. It could even be argued that the beautiful Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo was painted as a biblical advertisement.

Not only has art inspired adverts, but artists have also been inspired by products, too. In the 1960s, the artist Andy Warhol transformed everyday grocery store items such as soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles into works of art, boosting sales and forever blurring the lines between consumerism, branding and art.

Art for art’s sake

Some argue that using art to sell products devalues it. During his lifetime, Millais was attacked by critics, who argued that he was ‘prostituting his talent to sell soap.’ This week, critics took to Twitter, furious that a beloved monument was being used to sell bread. Art is art, they complained, not an opportunity for companies to boost their sales.

But others reply that advertising can be an art form, and that the stunt by Morrisons is simply a continuation of the complex and mutually beneficial relationship between art and advertising. Adverts, like art, can nurture interest in new movements in art and design, provoke ideas and debate, and signal new shifts in popular culture and trends.

You Decide

  1. Should Morrisons have used Gormley’s Angel of the North to advertise its products?
  2. Can advertising be art? What are the differences between the two?

Activities

  1. In groups, list five famous adverts. Decide whether you think any of them could be considered as works of art.
  2. Using our expert links as inspiration, pick a product and design your own advert for it. Include one or more influences from a famous work of art.

Some People Say...

“Business Art is a much better thing to be making than Art Art.’Andy Warhol”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does this matter?
It might not matter to you whether the Angel of the North becomes an advert, and it might even seem quite entertaining. But if it was a local landmark that meant a lot to you, you might feel differently. And if other famous landmarks in the world were regularly used to display advertisements, such as the Taj Mahal and the Statue of Liberty, we might begin to miss art and forget its original meaning and significance.
I find modern art baffling.
Lots of people would agree with you, and even the world’s leading art experts and critics regularly debate the meaning and purpose of some pieces of art, both old and modern. But sometimes the meaning attributed to an artwork can be just as important as the work itself. Often there is no right or wrong answer.

Word Watch

Antony Gormley
Born in 1950, the British sculptor has won many awards for his work, including the prestigious Turner Prize. Almost all his work takes the human body as its subject, and he often uses his own body for metal casts.
John Everett Millais
(1829-1896). A child prodigy, at the age of 11 he became the youngest student to enter the Royal Academy. While he was very successful during his lifetime, his work produced a mixed response in the 20th century as tastes in art changed.
Betting companies
Paddy Power caused a storm with an advertising campaign featuring Jesus and the apostles gambling, in an image mimicking Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of ‘The Last Supper’. The company was forced to remove the posters following numerous complaints.
Sistine Chapel
The frescoes that decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome were painted by Michelangelo under the patronage of Pope Julius II, between 1508 and 1512.
Andy Warhol
(1928-1987). An American artist who was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement. He produced some of the most expensive works of art ever sold.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.