Fourth Plinth: Contemporary Monument at the Institute of Contemporary Arts
The empty fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square has famously been taken over by artists in recent years, filling the void with new approaches to monumental art. We have seen the naked sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn in 2005, Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle in 2010, and Rachel Whiteread’s inverted cast of the plinth itself, Monument, in 2001.
All of these ideas play on what is considered public art now that the days of glorifying war and leadership are over. Trafalgar Square is still a focus point of events in London, and these pieces become part of the landscape and the debate for their duration.
The ICA has brought together several of the models commissioned for the plinth, showing them, gleaming in a dark gallery, to great effect. Some of these miniatures were shown, and others remain as unrealised ideas. Some push on and subvert the idea of monumental sculpture (Hew Locke’s overly-decorated general, Sikandar, 2010) while others think outside of the plinth and bring something utterly different, such as Mariele Neudecker’s fictional mountainscape It’s Never Too Late and You Can’t Go Back, 2010.
This series has become part of the art consciousness beyond London, and is an important arena for the development of art in public spaces. Remember Antony Gormley’s One or Other in 2009? 2400 members of the public were given an hour each to perform on the plinth, and kept the media fascinated. Represented by video in the exhibition, its central place rather dominates the eyeline of the rest.
Originally built for a statue of King William IV that was never installed, it was TV chef Prue Leith, president of the Royal Society of Arts in the 1990s, who came up with the brainwave of commissioning contemporary work for the plinth.
The project invigorates and reimagines sculpture; this exhibition is worth visiting to choose your favourite, and for a sneak preview of the next piece due to cause a stir and continue the tradition of controversy and jokes: a bright blue cockerel, Hahn / Cock, by Katharina Fritsch.