Fourteen years after the fine folks at the Greater London Authority were bold enough to allow contemporary artists to create work for the empty pedestal in Trafalgar Square, the project is still hitting home runs. We’ve seen artists install…
a giant rocking horse…
(Powerless Structures Fig. 101 by Elmgreen and Dragset)
a ship in a bottle…
(Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare)
a big blue cock (oh, just grow up)…
(Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch)
and, my favorite, a forum for people – anyone – to perform how ever they see fit…
(One and Another by Antony Gormley)
Fourteen years of show-stoppers. Crazy, messed-up shit that makes people squirm, and laugh, and flock to Trafalgar. What accounts for the continuing success of this project? Here’s what we know:
Adventurous artists for a start. Which is another way of saying adventurous sponsors. You can always find great artists, but try to find someone willing to take risks with their money! I think it is the Royal Arts Society that is backing Fourth Plinth. We at the Poorly Kept Secret Society commend them for letting the artists do what they do. But that’s not all that risky, to be frank. If your shelling out lots’ of pounds for an artist, you are going to want to get your money’s worth. The way to get your money’s worth from an artist is to trust them, even just a little.
On a related note, the focus on temporary is key. We at the Poorly Kept Secret Society believe that the best public art these days is temporary work. It loosens the anuses the understandably nervous administrators and commissions who supervise the process. Wonderful things can happen when you don’t have to worry about the word “forever” in the contract.
Okay, so we must admit that it is London. There are already tons of people there, locals and tourists, who dig this stuff. They are museum-goers and art-lovers. They invented -going and -loving, for Pete’s sake! Let us not pretend that Fourth Plinth will work the same on that empty fourth plinth in Kiowa or Alamosa.
But, perhaps most important to the success of Fourth Plinth is the fact that it so very simple of a concept. They just put some art where there was nothing. And, they trusted to that simplicity. Below is a transcript of the meeting of the Greater London Authority on the day they deliberated on the Fourth Plinth project:
“I say, Reginald, do you see that plinth over there?”
“What plinth? Are you referring to that fourth one, per chance?”
“The empty one?”
“Yes, Wilberforce, I see it.”
“What should we do with that empty fourth plinth, Reginald?”
“I’m afraid I’m at a loss, old bean. What do you think?”
“Well I certainly do not know what to do with that empty fourth plinth. We need to find someone creative to come up with a whopping great something to put on that empty fourth plinth.”
“I say! Wilberforce!”
“You have an idea, Reginald?”
“I do indeed! Do you know whom is creative?”
“Why no. Whom is creative, Reginald?”
“Artists are creative, Wilberforce! Artists! Let us ask a few artists to put something on that empty fourth plinth.”
“That’s a corker of an idea, Reginald! Let’s go down in the lift to share a pint before toddling off home to the trouble-and-strife.”
(Transcription may not be accurate.)
As I said, we can’t replicate London. And, we can’t expect to learn about the success of Trafalgar Square as a public space simply by examining the success of Fourth Plinth. However, that project is a fantastic measure to isolate. Learning how they manage to build on their own remarkable success, year after year, is valuable. Fourth Plinth is a model program for anyone thinking about a new public art project.