The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square is a London attraction that has the power to provoke strong reactions.
Love it or loath it, there’s no doubt that the Plinth’s changing art works can either raise your spirits or provoke a scream of disgust as you walk on by!
It’s also become one of London’s number one trendy meeting spots – as in ‘meet me by the plinth’!
A succession of artists have made their impression on the Fourth Plinth in recent years.
Sometimes there’s a shock value to their work, other times they make passers-by feel amused or challenged on a dreary, rainy London day.
Artist Mark Wallinger created controversy with the very first Plinth commission, Ecce Homo back in 1999. His life-sized Christ figure wearing a loin cloth, with bound hands, and wearing a crown of barbed wire caused a sensation.
I remember idling by without a care in the world and suddenly stopping in my tracks, open-mouthed, as I spotted this beautiful piece.
Over the last decade many artists have followed his lead with even more controversial works.
Rachel Whiteread’s Monument, a cast of the plinth in transparent resin, divided public opinion with its stark and uncompromising post-modern look but I must admit it was one of my favourites.
History and highlights
The Plinth has an intriguing history.
Back in 1841 Sir Charles Barry designed an equestrian statue of King William IV for the north west plinth of Trafalgar Square but the money ran out and the scheme was abandoned.
One hundred and fifty years later, the idea of having a statue on the plinth was resurrected, appropriately with Wallinger’s Christ figure.
It was the bright idea of the Royal Society of Arts – they thought installing modern art works would liven up London’s most famous meeting place and showcase world class art.
Soon the Fourth Plinth was wowing the crowds in Trafalgar Square.
After a brief hiatus in the early 2000s when the Plinth fell empty, it was resuscitated by the Major of London’s Office… and has been a popular fixture ever since.
Since then, there’s been no stopping top international artists creating works for the Plinth ranging from the crazy to the downright surreal.
Perhaps my favourite Plinth was the one curated by Antony Gormley. Rather than constructing one of his trademark bronze or steel figures, he opted for a succession of human sculptures rotating on the Plinth ledge!
Over 100 consecutive days, 2,400 selected members of the public were given an hour on the plinth to do anything they wanted to do.
It was always worth turning up to see what crazy stuff people were creating on top of the ledge, having been winched up for their 60 minutes of fame.
Another highlight was Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005), the torso-bust of a pregnant woman with physical disabilities. She’s a remarkable woman as you’ll see in this YouTube video… and her story made the work even more powerful and moving.
It was a landmark work because it was perhaps the first time an art work featuring someone with a disability had appeared in a prominent public place.
It was, if you’ll excuse the expression, ‘one in the eye’ for Nelson standing aloof on his macho column, also armless.
Nelson’s Column is the epitome of a phallic male monument so the Quinn statue was designed to represent a new model of female heroism.
Made in a single block of white marble 3.55 metres high, it certainly made a big statement.
Cockerels and rocking boys
On 25 July the Plinth welcomes another new art work – Katharina Fritsch will unveil her Fourth Plinth commission titled Hahn/Cock
Her striking, ultramarine blue cockerel is supposed to be a symbol of regeneration, awakening and strength – and already I have a feeling that this is going to be controversial.
I’m not sure how a surreal, four metre high bird is going to go down with visitors… but then the Plinth has never been a place for the traditional-minded art lover.
The current incumbent – Powerless Structures Fig. 101 by artists Elmgreen and Dragset – will be retired from the plinth after a year in the very public gaze.
This striking sculpture of a boy sitting on his rocking horse is hard to miss not least because it’s large and somewhat vulgar… some would say, grotesque!
Artists Elmgreen & Dragset said that they wanted to “create a public sculpture which, rather than dealing with topics of victory or defeat, honours the everyday battles of growing up”.
“A child is elevated to the status of historical hero, although there is not yet a history to commemorate,” says the blurb.
I think this means that the boy is supposed to symbolise hope for the future althugh I’m not sure if the crowds in Trafalgar Square figured that one out!
Cast in bronze, the work references the traditional monuments in the square, but, with its golden shine, it is supposed to celebrate generations to come.
I’m still not 100% convinced about the rocking boy’s merits but it has grown on me over the last year, and I’m starting to think I’ll miss its surreal presence.
My first impressions of the sculpture were mixed. From a distance it looked like a large plastic and cardboard toy sprayed with bronze paint.
Close up it seemed unreal and slightly disturbing, part cherub, part alien brother of the lithe, winged Anteros statue around the corner in Piccadilly Circus .
But it does have a powerful presence – which is unsurprising given its vital statistics. It’s over 4 metres high and weighs 3.1 tons.
I can’t wait for the next instalment of the Plinth’s story.
I’ll be waiting to see the unveiling of the giant cockerel in a few weeks time.
One thing is certain – it’s bound to cause a furore with its bright blue colour against the grey slabs of Trafalgar Square!
Tammy’s top tips
The Forth Plinth is located in London’s Trafalgar Square. The nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross and Green Park.
Other attractions in the locality are the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy on Piccadilly whilst shopaholics will enjoy a trip to nearby Regent Street or upmarket Piccadilly.
If you’re keen to see the grand unveiling of the large, blue cock – it’s taking place on 25 July 2013 in Trafalgar Square. Follow the latest updates via The Fourth Plinth on Facebook.