The acclaimed British sculptor Antony Gormley is to become a German citizen because of the “tragedy” of Brexit.
Speaking at a major retrospective of his work at the Museum Voorlinden near The Hague, Gormley, who is half-German, said his strong feelings about Britain’s departure from Europe had prompted him to apply for German nationality.
“I’m embarrassed about Brexit: it’s a practical disaster, a betrayal of my parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifice to make a Europe that was not going to be divided again. It’s a tragedy,” said the Turner prize-winning creator of the Angel of the North sculpture, at the launch of his show at Wassenaar, in the Netherlands.
The 71-year-old artist expected to receive his new passport in the next month, he said, by virtue of having a German mother. Gormley added that he believed many leading British politicians were not serving the country’s best interests. “Britain has fallen into the hands of self-seeking people who are not interested in public service but their personal careers, and that’s a shame,” he said.
The sculptor’s decision is the latest in a run of high-profile defections to European citizenship in protest against Brexit. The artist Cornelia Parker is also on the point of applying for a German passport.
Like Gormley, the artist is half German and an ardent Remainer. “Brexit affects everything,” she said last month.
“Your freedom of movement, my daughter’s future. I’m thinking of applying for German citizenship because I’m half-German. I don’t like feeling not part of Europe. I don’t want to be a little Englander.”
Art dealers warned last month that Britain’s reputation as a centre of the trade was fading, as it was revealed that the country’s share of the global art market fell by 3% last year to its lowest point in a decade.
Figures released by HM Revenue and Customs and published in this year’s Art Basel/UBS report on the global art market also showed the value of art and antiques imported into Britain in 2020 was down by a third on 2019.
Brexit is thought to be the chief cause of the sharp decline, although the pandemic has also hindered trade. Increased paperwork and a new requirement to pay import VAT when moving art from the EU to Britain are major deterrents.
Before Brexit, European artists could bring works over for sale without cost. Now they must pay a 5% levy.
The number of art dealerships that have relocated from London as a result is unclear, but next summer is expected to be crucial. Some galleries warn London will suffer as Paris did in the 1960s, when a complicated system of taxes and royalties on art sales drove a shift in business to America and Britain.
Gormley made his announcement after discussing plans to create seven “Brexit giants” off the French coast, a project first outlined on the eve of Britain’s departure from Europe. The sculptor wants to create a string of huge iron figures on the coast of Brittany, looking towards Britain as the lost island of Europe.
Speaking to Dutch journalists, Gormley said he believed this project would be his most significant legacy. “I am talking to the French minister of historic monuments,” he said. “It’s my most exciting possibility of a permanent work.”
The sculptures, which are planned to resemble abstract iron figures, are to go up on an archipelago of small islands in the Baie de Morlaix in Finistère, near the location of an ancient burial cairn.
“This is for the north coast of Brittany, where there is one of the largest single cairns, 11 passage graves built in about 2,700BC,” said Gormley last week.
“I want to make an industrial reply to these ancient monuments. Whether it will happen depends on money. But I’m very passionate about it.”