The Fourth Plinth, the Empty Plinth at the North West corner of Trafalgar Square
has been housing contemporary art exhibits since 1999.
At ICA 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 from December 4th, 2012 to January 20th, 2013.
Brought together for the first time in 13 years these commissioned artworks chosen to adorn a public space with international visibility, such as Trafalgar Square, bring forth changing attitudes about art.
Clippings from the press are also exhibited, along with comments and reactions not only on the commissions, but also on 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.
Now : Elmgreen & Dragset
In 2012 and early 2013 Powerless Structures by Elmgreen & Dragset stare us from the height of the Fourth Plinth. The sculpture is 4.11 meters high and 4.32 meters long and weighs 3.1 tons.
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”.
Seeking an urban metaphor
Right at the center London the Metropolis, the exhibit of a complex and controversial art surrounded by monumental sculptures and references seems to me like a performance put on stage in an open air theater.
It has the temporary, ephemeral character of a performance; even after its removal and replacement by the next artwork it will continue, like a theatrical performance, to be ‘on stage’ as long as it stays alive in the memories, the photographs, the videos and films, the narratives.
The magnificent structure of Trafalgar Square with its fountains and sculptures of commemorative art, harmoniously illuminated, recreates the space of an amphitheater or an Agora in the experience of ancient Greek city state & democracy.
Likewise it provides the solid space to house disputes on public art, on national identity, on politics of power and colonialism. It brings forth questions on artistic manifestation and the city.
So, for me, a traveler, a foreigner here who arrives to the heart of London from the South of Europe, from Greece, the Fourth Plinth proves by its presence, here and now, for 13 years already, that it belongs to Trafalgar Square, to London.
It is part of this cultural context by the very fact that it sustains and supports artistic experimentation and public discourse.
When public becomes private
I read in the exhibition catalogue, along with the names of the artists involved:“Fourth Plinth brings out the art critic in everyone”. “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, celebrating the New Year or a sport event.
But I have photographed Trafalgar Square at dusk.
You may also want to check Discover Secret London: King’s Cross
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