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13 November 2014

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You are in: Leeds > History > Local history > A missed opportunity?

Antony Gormley's brick man © Courtesy of the artist and Jay Jopling/White Cube.

The maqutte stands around six feet tall

A missed opportunity?

Two decades have passed since Leeds was arguing about making a national impact by creating a giant brick man towering over Holbeck.

The figure by, the then little-known, Antony Gormley was planned to be around 120 feet tall, his design for the brick man won a competition between 20 artists.

The brick man was never built. The sculpture would have been around half the height of the Town Hall (for a long time Leeds's tallest building). For a more recent comparison the newly-built Bridgewater Place is around three times the planned height of the statue.

The brick man © Courtesy of the artist and Jay Jopling/White Cube.

Would Leeds have loved the man?

If completed brick man would have been the largest sculpture in the UK at the time, and expected to cost £600,000 in 1988. The plan was for the man to be hollow inside, with a ground-floor entrance in one heel and two tiny windows in the ears, the public would be able to enter the foot to contemplate the scale of the interior.

However, public and political opposition combined with planning wrangles meant that the scheme was eventually scrapped.

Opposition to the scheme included a vote conducted through the Yorkshire Evening Post (a phone poll revealed 800 people for the figure but more than 2,000 against it).

The then Leeds City Council leader, Coun George Mudie said of the anti voters "Their common sense contrasts sharply with the airy-fairy views of celebrities who don't live within 100 miles of the city." in the cash-strapped 1980s (sound familiar?) it was felt money could be spent better elsewhere. And Leeds was a very different place back then.

Speaking to BBC Radio Leeds in 2009 George Mudie is un-repentant.

"People needed the help and I thought at the time it was a luxury and the wrong priority for the times.

"In the 80s we had Thatcher, we had industries, engineering, clothing, all disappearing. Those were the priorities. The brick man didn't fit with the priorities.

In the 90s we might have had enough resources to take a different decision."

In 1988 Conservative Councillor Richard Hughes-Rowlands said: "If Mr Gormley is talking about it (brick man) going somewhere else, my eyes won't exactly be weeping tears."

Angel of the North. Photo: Alan Cole

Angel of the North. Photo: Alan Cole

Ten years later it did - another Gormley creation, Gateshead's Angel of the North finally towered over the A1.

In the 21st century it is perhaps seen as a missed opportunity, maybe the city of Leeds was too timid, or money too tight. Since the brick man decision some large-scale public art projects elsewhere have become much appreciated.

You can still see a maquette (or model) of the brick man, made by Gormley in 1986, on display in Leeds City art gallery. The brick man was cast from life with the artist being covered in plaster.

The maquette is featured in the entrance of Leeds City Art Gallery and features as one of the gallery's top 10 exhibits. It still draws many curious, or regretful, glances.

Your views:

Absolutely a missed opportunity. We have developed the Leeds city region and the goverment's decision to give it special governing powers that only the Mayor of London has in their city, when the HSBC report of the future predicts Leeds to become a supercity within 20-50 years, how can we not have something like this? It could sum up the city in a single photo that could be recognised worldwide as "oh yes, that's Leeds!" picture.
In some ways I am thankful for the recently completed New Broadcasting Place, a 69m tower cladded in cor-ten (iron rust) which - love it or hate it - is at least an iconic image for the future development of Leeds. How many cities can claim tall buildings made of such advanced material?
Jawanza Ipyana

It was a missed opportunity, it would have been something else to bring people to the Leeds area and over time would have probably earned its money back, and as said was the money saved spent on anything good? or was it as I expect spent on pointless projects.
D.Matharu

Yes it was a missed opportunity but opposition to it was understandable at the time but the real question is did the money saved actually go to anything useful?
Lascelles Freckleton

Missed opportunity.
Andrew Whitten

Was cancelling the brick man a missed opportunity or a prudent decision?

last updated: 28/09/2009 at 18:23
created: 01/05/2009

You are in: Leeds > History > Local history > A missed opportunity?

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