Since 1999 the empty plinth at the North West corner of Trafalgar Square has been housing contemporary art exhibits.
From December 4th 2012 to January 20th, 2013 at ICA’s space on The Mall, a collection of 21 commissioned maquettes by celebrated artists were displayed under the title ‘Fourth Plinth: Contemporary Monument’ in partnership with the Mayor of London.
Brought together for the first time in 13 years these commissioned artworks chosen to adorn a public space with international visibility as Trafalgar Square bring forth changing attitudes about art and how artistic manifestation is related to the city, to concepts like national identity or colonialism.
Clippings from the press are also exhibited with the comments and reactions on the commissions and on the idea of the project itself, from the moment it was proposed in 1994 to its execution in 1999.
The Fourth Plinth has been left empty for almost 150 years when Prue Leith, a businesswoman, then chair of the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce) talked to the Evening Standard about the need to fill this empty space with suggestions from the public.
After years of negotiations and debates, James Lingwood’ s proposal that the plinth should be a site for contemporary artwork prevailed, and in 1999 the first, Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger was installed marking the turn of the millenium.
The next, installed for a full year, was Regardless of History by Bill Woodrow.
Not all of the commissioning proposals ended up to be installed on the Fourth Plinth, like Jeremy Deller’s bombed car It is What it is, Conversations about Iraq; however, they found their place in other Museums and in the art debates.
Elmgreen & Dragset,
In 2012 and early 2013 Powerless Structures by Elmgreen & Dragset stare us from the height of the Fourth Plinth. I read: It is a sculpture of a boy astride his rocking horse. A boy has been elevated to the status of historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate – only a future to hope for. Cast in bronze, the work references the traditional monuments in the square, but, with its golden shine, it celebrates generations to come. “We wanted to create a public sculpture which, rather than dealing with topics of victory or defeat, honours the everyday battles of growing up”. The sculpture is 4.11 metres high and 4.32 metres long and weighs 3.1 tons.
Seeking an urban metaphor
To the center of this capital city, this Metropolis, the exhibit of a complex and controversial art surrounded by monumental sculptures and references revokes the atmosphere of a performance put on stage in an open air theatre.
It has the temporary, ephemeral character of a performance; even after its removal and replacement by the next artwork it continues living in the memories, the photographs, the films, the narratives.
The magnificent structure of the Square with its fountains and sculptures of commemorative art, fantastically illuminated, recreate the space of an amphitheater that is harmonious and solid to house disputes on public art, on national identity or politics of power.
It seems to me that the Fourth Plinth after 13 years has proven that it belongs in this Square and in this cultural context by the very fact that it sustains and supports artistic experimentation and public discourse.
When public becomes private
The Fourth Plinth is one of those interventions in public space that “brings out the art critic in everyone”, as you may read in the exhibition catalogue, along with the names of the artists involved.
“The triumph of the Fourth Plinth is that it ignites discussion among those who would not usually find themselves considering the finer points of contemporary art”.
I did not have the chance to experience “how the artwork looks different as the events played at the feet of these sculpture alter”, whether it is a protest, a demonstration or a celebration at New Year or sport event.
But I have photographed Trafalgar Square at dusk.
You may also want to check my post Discover Secret London: King’s Cross http://urbantraveltales.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/discover-the-secret-london-kings-cross/
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