Fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square

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File:Cmglee Powerless Structures Fig 101.jpg
Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 in August 2012.

The Fourth Plinth is a plinth in Trafalgar Square in central London. It was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but remained bare due to insufficient funds. For over 150 years the fate of the plinth was debated; in 1999, a sequence of three contemporary artworks to be displayed on the plinth were announced. The success of this initiative led to a commission being formed to decide on a use for the plinth. Eventually that commission unanimously decided to continue using it for the temporary display of artworks.

The plinths

There is a plinth at each of the four corners of the square. The two southern plinths carry sculptures of Henry Havelock and Charles James Napier. The northern plinths are larger than those as they were designed to have equestrian statues, and indeed the northeastern plinth has one of George IV. The fourth plinth on the northwest corner, designed by Sir Charles Barry and built in 1841,<ref name="Telegraph 20071103">Template:Citation.</ref> was intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but remained empty due to insufficient funds.

The Fourth Plinth Project (1999–2001)

In 1998, the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) conceived the Fourth Plinth Project, which temporarily occupied the plinth with a succession of works commissioned from three contemporary artists. These were:

  • Mark Wallinger: Ecce Homo (1999) – Wallinger's Ecce Homo – the Latin title of which means "Behold the man", a reference to the words of Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus (John 19:5) – was a life-sized figure of Christ, naked apart from a loin cloth, with his hands bound behind his back and wearing a crown of barbed wire (in allusion to the crown of thorns). Atop the huge plinth, designed for larger-than-life statuary, it looked minuscule. Some commentators said that, far from making the Man look insignificant, his apparent tininess drew the eye powerfully; they interpreted it as a commentary on human delusions of grandeur.Template:Citation needed
  • Bill Woodrow: Regardless of History (2000)
  • Rachel Whiteread: Monument (2001) – Whiteread's Monument, by an artist already notable for her Turner Prize-winning work House and the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, was a cast of the plinth in transparent resin placed upside-down on top of the original.

A committee convened to consider the RSA's late-1990s project concluded that it had been a success and "unanimously recommended that the plinth should continue to be used for an ongoing series of temporary works of art commissioned from leading national and international artists". After several years in which the plinth stood empty, the new Greater London Authority assumed responsibility for the fourth plinth and started its own series of changing exhibitions.

The Fourth Plinth Commission (2005–)

Under the stewardship of the Fourth Plinth Commission the following artworks have been commissioned:

2005
  • Marc Quinn: Alison Lapper Pregnant (15 September 2005 - late 2007) – a Template:Convert, 13-tonne<ref name="Telegraph 20071103"/> Carrara marble torso-bust of Alison Lapper, an artist who was born with no arms and shortened legs due to a condition called phocomelia. A replica of the statue was a feature of the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony.
2007
File:Gormley-OneandOther-4thPlinth-TrafalgarSq-20090706.jpg
Antony Gormley standing on top of the fourth plinth at the opening of his art installation One & Other on 6 July 2009
  • Thomas Schütte: Model for a Hotel 2007 (formerly Hotel for the Birds) (unveiled 7 November 2007) – a 5-metre by 4.5-metre by 5-metre architectural model of a 21-storey building made from coloured glass. The work cost £270,000 and was funded primarily by the Mayor of London and the Arts Council of England. Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery and chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group that recommended Quinn's and Schütte's proposals to the Mayor in 2004, said: "There will be something extraordinarily sensual about the play of light through the coloured glass  ... [I]t's going to feel like a sculpture of brilliance and light."<ref name="Telegraph 20071103"/>
2009
  • Antony Gormley: One & Other (6 July – 14 October 2009) – over the course of a hundred consecutive days, a total of 2,400 selected members of the public each spent one hour on the plinth. They were allowed to do anything they wished to and could take anything with them that they could carry unaided. Volunteers for the Fourth Plinth were invited to apply through the website www.oneandother.co.uk, and were chosen so that ethnic minorities and people from all parts of Britain were represented. For safety reasons, the plinth was surrounded by a net, and a team of six stewards were present 24 hours a day to make sure that, for instance, participants were not harmed by hecklers. There was a live feed of the plinth on the Internet sponsored by TV channel Sky Arts.<ref name="Telegraph 20090226">Template:Citation.</ref> Gormley said: "In the context of Trafalgar Square with its military, valedictory and male historical statues, this elevation of everyday life to the position formerly occupied by monumental art allows us to reflect on the diversity, vulnerability and particularity of the individual in contemporary society. It's about people coming together to do something extraordinary and unpredictable. It could be tragic but it could also be funny."<ref name="Telegraph 20090226"/>
2010
  • Yinka Shonibare: Nelson's Ship in a Bottle (24 May 2010 – January 2012) – this work, by a leading Anglo-Nigerian artist, consists of a replica of Nelson's ship, the HMS Victory, with sails made of printed fabric in a colourful African pattern inside a large glass bottle stopped with a cork; the bottle is 4.7 metres long and 2.8 metres in diameter.<ref name="guardian_shinobare_bought"/> According to the Greater London Authority, the artwork is the first "to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, and will link directly with Nelson's column. It is also the first commission by a black British artist." The work proved popular, and its removal in early 2012 led to fears that it would be sold to a Korean collector.<ref name="bbc_appeal"/><ref name="guardian_victory"/> The Art Fund launched a public appeal to raise money to buy the work from the artist.<ref name="bbc_appeal"/> By April 2012 the money was raised, including £264,300 donated from the public and £50,000 each from The Art Fund and Shonibare's gallery Stephen Friedman.<ref name="guardian_shinobare_bought"/> The work is now on display at the National Maritime Museum, which also contributed to the purchase fund.<ref name="guardian_shinobare_bought"/>
2012
  • Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset (23 February 2012 – April 2013): Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 – a Template:Convert tall bronze sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse.<ref name="bbc_powerless">Template:Cite news</ref> Unlike the square's other statues, which celebrate kings and military leaders, this is intended to portray "the heroism of growing up".<ref name="mayor_elmgreendragset">Template:Cite web</ref> The statue was unveiled by actress Joanna Lumley who called it a "completely unthreatening and adorable creature".<ref name="bbc_powerless"/> After its display on the Fourth Plinth the sculpture was bought by the Annie og Otto Detlefs Fond and donated to the Arken Museum of Modern Art in Ishøj, Denmark. Michael Elmgreen was born in Copenhagen, a short distance away from the museum; Ingar Dragset's home city of Trondheim in Norway had also expressed an interest in acquiring the work. Christian Gether, the museum's director, said “I was at the National Gallery for the inauguration of the sculpture and saw straight away that its irony and humanism fits perfectly at Arken. The sculpture comes with tradition and renewal and it is an ironic commentary on the obeisance of warlords. At the same time, it praises the child’s spontaneity and its playful approach to life”.
2013
  • Katharina Fritsch: Hahn/Cock (25 July 2013 – present) – a Template:Convert high blue sculpture of a cockerel, intended to symbolise "regeneration, awakening and strength".<ref name="bbc_powerless"/><ref name="bbc_cockerel"/> The statue will be displayed for 18 months.<ref name="bbc_cockerel"/>
Planned
  • Hans Haacke: Gift Horse (planned for 2015) – a bronze statue of a riderless skeletal horse; wrapped around its leg is an electronic stock ticker display. Haacke says the sculpture is a tribute to economist Adam Smith and horse painter George Stubbs, whose books Wealth of Nations and The anatomy of the Horse were both published in 1766.<ref name="bbc_feb_2014"/><ref name="guardian_feb_2014"/> He based the design on a sketch by Stubbs, who had designed the equestrian statue of William IV intended for the plinth.<ref name="bbc_feb_2014"/>
  • David Shrigley: Really Good (planned for 2016) – a bronze sculpture of a human hand in a thumbs-up gesture, with the thumb greatly elongated. The top of the thumb will reach Template:Convert high.<ref name="bbc_feb_2014"/><ref name="guardian_feb_2014"/>

Proposals for permanent statues

The best use of the fourth plinth remains the subject of debate. On 24 March 2003 an appeal was launched by Wendy Woods, the widow of the anti-apartheid journalist Donald Woods, hoping to raise £400,000 to pay for a Template:Convert statue of Nelson Mandela by Ian Walters. The relevance of the location is that South Africa House, the South African high commission, scene of many anti-apartheid demonstrations, is on the east side of Trafalgar Square.

In February 2008, Terry Smith, the chief executive of trading house Tullett Prebon, offered to pay more than £100,000 for a permanent statue acceptable to "ordinary Londoners" of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park in recognition of his work as commander of No. 11 Group RAF during the Battle of Britain, as it was this Group that was responsible for the defence of London. A Greater London Authority spokesman said: "There are many worthy suggestions for statues on the fourth plinth and some people feel passionately about each of them. All proposals will be judged on their merits including its current use as one of the most high profile sites for contemporary public art in London. The cost of erecting the current work on the plinth is £270,000. The cost of a permanent monument is likely to be considerably more." Subsequently, it was announced in May 2009 that in autumn that year a 5-metre high fibreglass statue of Park would be placed on the fourth plinth for six months, with a 2.78-metre bronze statue permanently installed in Waterloo Place.

Following the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher on 8 April 2013, Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond suggested that her memorial statue be placed on the fourth plinth. Hammond's proposal was supported by Thatcher's colleague Norman Tebbit and by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson were both said to welcome the proposal as one of several possible sites.

It has also been suggested that a permanent statue of Queen Elizabeth II is to be erected on the plinth after her death, which would explain why there has been such a long delay in choosing a permanent monument. This was rumoured in the press in 2008 and, after Margaret Thatcher's death, Ken Livingstone commented, "The understanding is that the fourth plinth is being reserved for Queen Elizabeth II."

Other uses

Commercial companies have used the plinth, often without permission, as a platform for publicity stunts, including a model of David Beckham by Madame Tussauds during the 2002 FIFA World Cup.<ref name="Telegraph 20071103"/> The London-based American harmonica player Larry Adler jokingly suggested erecting a statue of Moby-Dick, which would then be called the "Plinth of Whales". A television ident for the British TV station Channel 4 shows a CGI Channel 4 logo on top of the fourth plinth.

References

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External links

Template:Trafalgar Square Template:Public art in London Template:Coord