FOURTH PLINTH

Fourth Plinth
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FOURTH PLINTH



Written by Izzy Elstob
27 Monday 27th September 2010

Let us be under no illusions.  None of the works shortlisted to fill the void of the Fourth Plinth is ‘Great Art’.  Luckily that status is not required of this project, which has accelerated under its own momentum to be one of the most successful public art projects in London’s recent history.  What is nice about this art commission is that is has more often than not been faithful to figuration rather than lying misunderstood and mocked under a pretence to Abstraction or – worse still for Daily Mail-ites – Conceptualism.  As far as I can tell this has actually led to the artists putting a hell of a lot more thought into their submission than would be the case otherwise.  It leaves us, on the whole, with relatable, attractive and thoughtful artworks.


Yinka Shonibare’s slick Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle has, rightly, been a very popular work with the public, so it is a hard act for each of the six shortlisted artists to follow.  It is essential, for whatever object eventually sits upon the plinth, to do so fully confident and comfortable in its effectiveness without language to justify its existence.  But this is all really a matter of taste.  My Michelangelo may be your absolute munter.  My munter in this case is Elmgreen and Dragset’s Powerless Structures, a golden boy riding a golden rocking horse, apparently ‘a visual statement celebrating expectation and change rather than glorifying the past’.  All very sweet and well-meaning.  But the child is irritating and the colour is garish.  Brian Griffiths’s Battenburg is a rather nice idea: constructing a giant Battenburg cake from bricks.  It’s a playful object that dually taps into themes of consumerism’s relationship to art as well as alluding to the Victorian commemorative creation of this staple food of the English teatime.  It is, unfortunately however, a rather ugly thing, and so does not possess the visual panache to stand alone without explanation.


So what of the remaining four submissions?  It is true that Katherine Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock would break the monotony of Trafalgar Square’s monochromatic colour scheme with a brazen injection of brilliant blue, and the idea of this ridiculous jowly bird standing proudly amongst kings and generals is attractive in its absurdity.  The inference of another ‘cock’ puffing out his chest on a plinth induces a smile but is perhaps a slightly obvious way of subverting our traditional idea of the hero, the great and the good.  I have a concern for Mariele Neudecker’s work that depicts a mountainous Great Britain: will it be any fun when seen from below? All the detail of the terrain points to the sky making its viewing exclusive for the pigeons.


If I had any money it would be on either Hew Locke’s Sikandar or Allora and Calzadilla’s Untitled (ATM/Organ).  The former is stunning in its maquette-form and if Locke can pull off this fetishistic orgy of fabric, jewels and gold on a large scale it will be quite a sight to behold in our most famous square.  Alexander the Great in all his pomp will make his companion horseman George IV (who sits on the neighbouring plinth) look like one hell of a boring bastard.  What would not be boring, however, would be to commission Untitled (ATM/Organ) to take up temporary residency in our city.  The great organ with its fine vertical lines echoing the surrounding architecture would toot and howl its notes across the square when its adjoining ATM was used by a member of the public.  This artwork is fun, participatory and good-looking.  It is absurd in its function but meaningful in its purpose (highlighting our mad monetary lives).  It could be the perfect public artwork.

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