News today of the decisions for the artworks to go on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.   For the first time the selection has gone international.    One of the great public open spaces for contemporary art.

Trafalgar Square is one of London’s iconic spaces. Along with Big Ben, the Tower of London, the London Eye etc etc.  A tourists’ dream.  In practice is a wide open space of stone paving with fountains, mostly surrounded by cars and busses.  Windy and wet today. 

It is less well-known as a centre for demonstrations.  Indeed there were strong objections in the 19th century when it was planned. ” Can’t have such an open space too close to the centres of power: the masses will take advantage” . They did of course, in Black Monday and Blood Sunday in 1887 , for the General Strike in 1927 and the poll tax riots in 1987.  (Required reading: Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire).

As well as Nelson’s Column there are four plinths in the Square. Three have statutes of upstanding gentlemen who had illustrious careers in the British Empire.  That was a very ironic sentence:  all were implicated in the less savoury elements of imperialism.

The fourth plinth was never filled with such an “esteemed” establishment person.Plenty of suggestions.  But  six years ago an inspired decision was made to put a piece of contemporary art on the plinth. Some great examples: Mark Wallingers’ Ecce Homo;  Mark Quinn’s sculpture of Alison Lapper, Rachael Whiteread’s inverted plinth in resin.  Currently the ship in a bottle is withstanding everything the cold weather can throw at it.

 Some disasters of course depending on your view of contemporary art.  Anthony Gormley’s “15 minutes of fame” perhaps the most notorious. 

The signficant point is that contemporay visual art is taken out of the white cube galleries with their frequentrly unfriendly atmosphere , out of the Tate Modern and into the general public space.  Joy, controversy, fun, serious thinking: all the fun of the fair.

And now the works for 2012 and 2013 have been announced.  For the first time the competition was thrown open internationally. The winners are

Elmgreen & Dragset’s, Powerless Structures, Fig.101, will be unveiled in 2012.  The sculpture portrays a boy astride his rocking horse and will be cast in bronze. The child is elevated to the status of a historical hero in the context of the iconography of Trafalgar Square. Instead of acknowledging the heroism of the powerful, the work celebrates the heroism of growing up and gently questions the tradition for monuments predicated on military victory or defeat. In this case there is not yet a history to commemorate – only a future to hope for.

Katharina Fritsch’s proposal Hahn / Cock is a giant cockerel in ultramarine blue. In the setting of the square this extraordinary animal, its unnatural scale and bold colour, renders the situation unreal, bringing a sense of hallucination and uncertainty to the genteel Georgian architecture. The cockerel, a popular motif in modernist art, symbolises regeneration, awakening and strength. The sculpture will be unveiled in 2013.


Can’t wait to see them