Don’t look a Gift Horse in the mouth: The new sculpture on the Fourth Plinth
Trafalgar Square is a pretty dramatic setting, bordered by listed, historical buildings with Nelson’s Column as its centrepiece. Standing out amongst the predominantly Victorian architecture is the Fourth Plinth in the north-west corner of the Square – containing changing contemporary art pieces. When the Square was laid out in the 1840s by architect Sir Charles Barry, two plinths on the north wall were created. It was only in the 1850s two free-standing plinths were erected on the south of the fountains creating a grand total of four. The plan was for notable figures to be placed on all plinths, but only three were filled. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century and until present day, three of the plinths hosted sculptures of King George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. The Fourth Plinth was originally designed to hold an equestrian statue of King William IV, but plans were dropped due to lack of funds.
It’s only been since 1998 that the Fourth Plinth has been occupied. It was decided it would host temporary contemporary artworks. Over the years, it has been the base of many sculptures, including Marc Quinn’s one of Alison Lapper, Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle and Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig. 101.
In March 2015, the 10th artwork to occupy the plinth was unveiled to the public, replacing the previous Hahn/Cock which had been there since July 2013. The new ‘inhabitant’ is Gift Horse by German artist Hans Haacke. The sculpture is a skeleton of a horse with an electronic bow featuring share prices from the Stock Exchange. The art is a nod to the original Victorian plan for an equestrian statue that was due to stand on the fourth plinth, but didn’t make it due to funding. Haacke admitted he was inspired by 18th century painter George Stubbs’ The Anatomy Of The Horse. Gift Horse is due to remain on the Fourth Plinth until September 2016, when it will be replaced by David Shrigley’s bronze hand Really Good.
- Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2N. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.