The Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square is very different from the other three – instead of
carrying a grey statue it always surprises one's eye with a contemporary sculptural piece, which
is changed every two years. But the question is – does the contemporary art sculptures fit into the
classical space of Trafalgar Square?
The Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square, built in the north-west corner, was designed by Sir
Charles Barry in 1841. It was intended, that it would hold an equestrian statue of William IV,
however due to insufficient funds the statue was never completed. The plinth stayed empty until
1858, when a statue of Edward Jenner was unveiled. Still, it was removed four years later due
protests by anti-vaccinationists. After that, it was unused for more than a century, and became
In 1999, when the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
(RSA) launched the Fourth Plinth Project, three contemporary sculptures by Mark Wallinger (Ecce
Homo (1999) - a life-sized figure of a man, wearing a loin cloth and a crown of barbed wire, with
his hands tied behind his back, referring to Jesus Christ), Bill Woodrow (Regardless the History
(2000) – a bronze sculpture showing the head of a man crushed over a book, both bound to the
Plinth by the roots of a dead tree) and Rachel Whiteread (Untitled Monument (2001) – a transparent
resin cast of the actual Plinth, standing upside-down on the original) have been commissioned to be
displayed temporarily on the Plinth. Regarding the enormous public attention, the Mayor of London
began the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group (a commission of specialist advisers appointed
to guide the commissions for the Plinth) and since then the Plinth has been used as a location for
exhibiting specially commissioned works by contemporary artists.
After standing empty again for a few years, the Plinth was again open for exhibit in 2005,
when a controversial statue Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn unveiled. This has caused
many discussions, since some were questioning on the shock value of disability, as well as lauded
for its progressive social values. Also, the statue reactivated the discussions about the purpose of
contemporary art in this antique location.
In 2007 Marc Quinn's work was replaced by Thomas Schutte's Model for a Hotel 2007 – a
model of a twenty-one storey hotel from red, yellow and blue coloured glass. It brought a feel of
After two years, the colourful, static sculpture was replaced by presumably most interesting
and negotiable project on the Fourth Plinth - Antony Gormley's One & Other, turning the plinth
into a “living monument”. This involved 2400 people, picked from the public after applying on the
project's website, standing on a plinth for one hour - 24 hours a day for 100 days without a break.
Selected people were allowed to use the Plinth any way they want, do anything they want, including
dancing, music, performing, reading poetry, or even just doing nothing at all, making a raw
representation of both, individuality and the whole of humanity at the same time. The performances
were broadcast live over the internet 24 hours a day. The project also caused a lot of discussions,
since many people did not consider this as an appropriate act of art for the Trafalgar Square, rather
as an act of snobbery.
The current sculpture on the Fourth Plinth is Yinka Shonbare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle. It
was unveiled on 24th of May, 2010. This work of a Anglo-Nigerian artist is a replica of Nelson's
ship, the Victory, inside a large glass bottle stopped with a cork. The artwork marks the preserved
importance of historical symbolism of Trafalgar Square. It is a reminder of the Battle of Trafalgar
and is directly related to Nelson – this is one of the reasons which excludes the piece from the
others exhibited on the Fourth Plinth.
Soon, the turn...
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