The best of the Fourth Plinth
From an ancient bull destroyed by the Islamic State, to a huge splurge of cream, the 2018 and 2020 fourth plinth proposals are as intriguing as ever.
For over 20 years, the plinth has been a platform in hosting a series of temporary, site-specific art installations. Subject matter ranges wildly, from the whacky to the more explicitly politically charged.
In no particular order, here are our top five previous plinth installations.
David Shrigley, arguably the king of absurdity from his cartoons to sculptures, occupied the Fourth Plinth since September 2016. Really Good is simply the common thumbs up gesture cast in bronze. Shrigley’s twist being the elongated, charming reptilian thumb proves comical and satirical – provoking smirks from passers-by. It is almost goading us, a patronising reminder of the current political landscape – rather fitting for Brexit and Trump. Cheerfully sarcastic. Aside from the overtly phallic form, it is in fact the tallest of any Fourth Plinth installation, standing at an imposing seven metres. At the unveiling, suspended silence had to be broken by Sadiq Khan prompting cheering and applause, a contrived feel-good response perfectly married to this brutally candid piece.
Unveiled in 2013, Hahn/Cock by Katherina Fritsch did not disappoint. The spirited play on words with the title ‘Hahn’ meaning Cock in German is perfectly self deprecating. Fritsch herself dubbed the piece as a feminist sculpture, due to depicting something male as a female artist. The Cockerel’s connotations of awakening combined with this contemporary take on masculinity juxtapose age-old depictions of power within the Square’s figures. However, arguably what really won everyone over was the fantastic colour, so bold and refined.
In 2009's One & Other, Antony Gormley invited 2,400 people to talk separately for an hour on the Fourth Plinth, on a subject of their choice. Performances ranged from Godzilla destroying a cardboard maquette of the London skyline to a naked still life model and somebody inviting the public to text their secrets, proceeding to read them aloud. Another poignant piece was an agoraphobic woman who curled up in a ball for the hour. Gormley’s artwork was also our artwork. It revealed our loves, hates, strengths and vulnerabilities in a truly unpredictable series of contributions.
From 2010-12 Yinka Shonibare was the first artist to reflect upon the historical meaning of the Square by commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar with Nelson's Ship in a Bottle. This beautifully crafted ship, complete with intricate details on the sails is surreal, as if this historical event was bottled up and reunited once more in close proximity with Nelson himself. This piece proved so popular that £264,300 was donated by the public combined with sums from third parties to save it from being sold to a Korean collector, and now resides in the National Maritime Museum.
Marc Quinn in 2005 was undoubtedly successful in redefining the public’s perception beauty through highly skilled representation. A 13 tonne and 3.6 metre tall marble bust entitled Alison Lapper Pregnant graced the fourth plinth. Born with phocomelia, the portrayal views Lapper’s ability, rather than disability. Compared to plenty of marble statues existing in a classical style, this portrayal defiantly questions the role of the human form in public spaces, as well as championing disability. Reinvigorating the notion and role of the statue shrouded with power, it also encompasses the model. The trend of redefining beauty also appears to be gaining momentum within advertising and fashion. This was remade even larger for the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games closing ceremony.
This highly controversial commissioning project has progressives favouring the clearing of the square’s arguably unfamiliar military and royal figures and replacing them with more accessible works. However some conservatives tend to deplore the farcical pieces. Whatever the stance, this project is undoubtedly successful in raising conversation surrounding the place and value of art in the public realm whilst bringing more diversity to London and the UK.
The next two Fourth Plinth winners will be announced in March. You can check out the five proposals in The National Gallery's new shortlist.