Trafalgar Square has been given a new piece of art amongst its fountains, lions and statues following the unveiling of the latest Fourth Plinth commission. Succeeding David Shrigley’s divisive Really Good, the latest piece is a recreation of a lost ancient artefact.
Michael Rakowitz’s artwork The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is a piece from his long-term project to recreate 7,000 objects that have been lost forever. This particular sculpture is a recreation of the Lamassu, which had guarded the Nergal Gate of Nineveh (near Mosul, Iraq). Created around 700BC, it was destroyed by ISIS in 2015, along with many other ancient artefacts and historical sites. The Lamassu is a deity featuring a human head with the body of a winged bull. Rakowitz has chosen to make his sculpture from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans, a once thriving industry which was ravaged by the conflicts of the region. On the fountain facing side of the piece, an inscription in Cuneiform reads: ‘Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, had the inner and outer wall of Ninevah built anew and raised as high as mountains.’
This is the 12th work to appear on the Fourth Plinth since the programme started in 1998. The plinth was designed as one of four by architect Sir Charles Barry when he laid out Trafalgar Square in the 1840s. It was originally scheduled to showcase an equestrian statue of King William IV, but the plan was never realised due to austerity cuts. After 150 years of remaining empty, the Fourth Plinth programme was finally conceived in the 1990s as a platform for temporary artworks.
- The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist will remain in situ until March 2020. At the Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.
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The latest artwork has been unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square and it’s already dividing critics and the public. Really Good, a giant hand in a thumbs up gesture by artist David Shrigley, was unveiled on 29 September 2016 and will remain there for the foreseeable future. The new sculpture replaces Gift Horse by German artist Hans Haacke, which had been in situ since March 2015.
After Trafalgar Square was laid out in the 1840s, three of the four plinths were – and still are – occupied by 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. After decades of being empty, a new public art project was conceived in 1998 for the Fourth Plinth to house a rotation of temporary artworks.
Brighton-based artist Shrigley has created a seven-metre high, bronze hand with a disproportionately large thumb. This new sculpture has been hailed as a beacon for positive thinking during a somewhat tricky year, with the Brexit vote dividing the British public. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones wrote: ‘This is a weird and bizarre sculpture whose stark silhouette against the London sky is not affirmative or reassuring but aggressive.’ Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s Mark Hudson said: ‘If the dark bronze skilfully echoes the patina of the older statues, blending the sculpture into its grandiose setting, the way the ball of the hand, the clenched fingers and thumb relate to each other is uncomfortable and patently unrealistic.’ Personally, I’m still undecided what I think about it and may have to see it a few more times before I decide if I like it or hate it. It’s certainly prompted a lot more debate among Londoners than recent commissions.
- Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.
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.
Trafalgar Square is easily London’s most famous square. Once marooned as a traffic island, the closure of the north road beside the National Gallery has made the space more pedestrian friendly. The square is a huge draw to tourists due to Nelson’s Column and his lions and the great view down Whitehall looking towards Victoria Tower and Big Ben. Dotted around the square, which was laid out in 1845 by Sir Charles Barry, are three plinths containing statues of notable figures: King George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. Which leaves the fourth plinth in the north-west corner, which stood empty for decades. It was originally designed to hold an equestrian statue of King William IV, but plans were dropped due to lack of funds.
Finally, after decades of debates about what would go there, it was decided in 1998 that the fourth plinth would play home to 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, most recently, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig. 101.
In July 2013, a striking and colourful creation was unveiled. Katharina Fritsch’s 4.73 metre high sculpture of a blue cockerel, entitled Hahn/Cock. Meant to symbolise ‘regeneration, awakening and strength’ and the British triumph at the Tour De France, it will remain on the fourth plinth for 18 months. German artist Fritsch admitted her work is a feminist sculpture, prompting a humorous juxtaposition in a square full of alpha male historical figures.
N.B. Hahn/Cock has since been replaced on the Fourth Plinth by a new piece entitled Gift Horse. Click here to find out more.
- Trafalgar Square is located in the City of Westminster. Nearest tube: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.
To find out the history of another famous London Square, read More than just a traffic island: The history behind Parliament Square.
To find out the story behind the nearby statue of Charles I and the Eleanor Cross which stood on the same site, read Civil war, centre of London and a memorial to a queen: The story behind Charing Cross.