A place of history, celebration and an iconic tourist spot, Trafalgar Square with its Fourth Plinth Project holds a special place in all public art debates. A government funded project where artists construct temporary public artworks for display on an empty plinth in the Square, this is one project whose success or failure nearly everyone has an opinion about. And the ICA London does a fantastic job of bringing all these opinions to roost and ferment under one roof, with their current Fourth Plinth: Contemporary Monument exhibition.
Without being overwhelming, this exhibition provides an insight into the discussions involved and the permissions that were required to get this project off the ground, the artists who made the cut and those projects that were not the right fit, and finally leaves you with the question of which rejected proposal would you rather have had on display, and instead of which work?
With maquettes of the different proposals on plinth-like display stands, a great catalogue and archive to browse through, and sombre but spectacular lighting to set the mood, this is one of the tightest and most effective exhibitions I have seen in a while. And without needing rooms and rooms of gallery space to stumble through.
Here are some perspectives from artists who have been part of the Fourth Plinth Project.
The first Fourth Plinth work – Mark Wallinger: Ecce Homo (1999)
My favorite – Antony Gormley introducing his idea for One and Other (2007)
The most recent – Elmgreen and Dragset: Powerless Structures Fig 101 (2012)
The debate continues….
What I realised is that for each of these artists, their Fourth Plinth works are some of their most experimental or challenging projects yet; the one work that symbolises their oeuvre and the conundrums they try to resolve with their art. Questions of identity are asked and political comments on poverty, disability and war are unveiled.
Either which way, the Plinth doesn’t go unnoticed. And even if it doesn’t spark a debate, you can be sure the work makes for great touristy backdrops.