London has wonderful art in its museums and galleries but the art and sculpture in public spaces is a constant delight as we walk around. My favourite site is the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square which has extremely varied pieces which have changed every couple of years since 1999. After sitting empty for 150 years what is known as the Fourth Plinth began hosting some temporary commissions and this has built into a stunning series of works, often provoking debate and controversy but always bringing something new to the square.
Why was it left empty when the other 3 plinths have their own statue? It was intended to host an equestrian statue of William IV but there was not enough money so it was left as a sad empty plinth since it was built in 1841. There have been several attempts to push for a permanent statue ranging from Nelson Mandela to Margaret Thatcher and even rumours it is being saved for our current Queen once she has died – who knows!
The latest commission has just been unveiled, chosen from a shortlist of five and luckily this was my favourite. It has the rather lengthy title of The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist and is an impressive 14 foot high winged bull from Nineveh. Sadly the original statue no longer exists in situ as ISIS smashed it to pieces in 2015 after it stood proudly since 700 BC. The bull is Lamassu, a protective deity, now sitting here on the top of the 4th Plinth in the hope of returning to Iraq one day.
It’s an impressive piece, covered in empty date syrup cans which is a reference to the industry which was important to the Iraqi economy but decimated by the Iraq Wars. 4th Plinth statues always contain a range of meanings and often take a while to get to love but this one caught me right away. Enjoy this gallery of shots of the Lamassu including a close up of those tins.
Let me take you through a short tour of some of the previous 4th Plinth commissions. The last work on the 4th Plinth was the super optimistic Really Good, a massive thumbs up by David Shrigley. I wasn’t taken with it at first but the sheer joy of its message was uplifting and I grew to look forward to each sighting.
In 2015 we had Gift Horse, a skeletal horse based on a painting in the neighbouring National Gallery, who had a live running ticker tape of the Stock Exchange share numbers on its front banner.
Wonderful blue cockerel in 2013/14 brought a blast of colour to the square and the artist Katharina Fritsch claimed it had no connection with the French symbol, but I think that was a rather tongue in cheek statement, it’s clearly a French coq!
Boy on a golden rocking horse in 2012 drew attention to the other plinths which house dead old men, victorious in war at the end of their lives whereas this was a golden boy at the start of his life, enjoying a rocking horse with no history weighing him down.
Ship in a bottle in 2010 is my favourite commission and the only one you can still see in London as it currently resides outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It is a scale replica of Nelson’s HMS Victory, the ship he captained to win the battle of Trafalgar – and in which he met his death. The 37 sails are made of African batik and the artist Yinka Shonibare used them to consider Britain’s colonial history and the importance of the navy, and Nelson, in protecting the empire and enabling its expansion.
Our next 4th Plinth commission can be seen in 2020 so watch this space…!