The Fourth Plinth

Trafalgar Square is home to one of the most exciting art initiatives in the world. Peter Gray reports.


It was completed in the reign of Queen Victoria, stood vacant for over 150 years and is now home to the most discussed contemporary art commission in the UK. So, what’s next for the fourth plinth?

It is a little-known fact but the fate of the fourth plinth was once the longest running soap opera in the history of London. The platform was completed in 1841 as part of the project that created London’s Trafalgar Square. Due to a massive funding crisis, however, the statue that had been planned for the plinth was never begun, and stripped of a reason for being, the plinth lay bare for over 150 years.

During that period a variety of proposals to fill the vacant plinth were announced, debated and subsequently discarded as the years turned into decades and the decades eventually turned into over a century.

In fact, it was not until the then Secretary of State for Culture Chris Smith decided to poll the public about the future of the platform in 1999, that the idea of a rolling commission was born.

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences and Commerce began to seek artists to temporarily fill the platform and in 2003, as ownership of the square transferred from Westminster City Council to the Mayor of London, Mayor Ken Livingstone established a permanent working group to oversee the commission.

Since then the platform has played host to a truly impressive range of artists.

Alison Lapper Pregnant – Marc Quinn

There was Marc Quinn’s ‘Alison Lapper pregnant’ statue which sought to celebrate diversity by presenting the subject, Lapper, an artist born without arms and legs, in a style more commonly used by the artists of antiquity when depicting the great beauties of the age.

Hahn/Cock – Katharina Fritsch

The Fourth Plinth work Hahn Cock

Katharina Fritsch brought humour to the proceedings with her striking blue cock, which stood loud and proud among the monuments of the square and was meant to signify regeneration, awakening and strength.

Powerless Structures, Fig. 101

Powerless Structures Fig 101

One and Other – Anthony Gormley

Anthony Gormley demonstrated his humanity with his 100 day long ‘One and Other’ which used ‘human sculptures’. The piece, which Gormley said intended to “elevate everyday life into the realm of monumental art” featured a different member of the public each hour performing their normal daily routines.

Really Good – David Shrigley

Most recently off course, the plinth has played host to David Shrigley’s ‘Really Good’. The statue depicts a seven-metre-tall hand with an elongated thumb making a ‘thumbs up’ gesture.

Shrigley said the aim of the project was to champion positivity and to challenge pessimism.

The work was not without its critics however, with some of the most passionate feeling like they could not give the work any sort of thumbs up at all.

The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist – Michael Rakowitz

Now the list of artists who have exhibited work on the Plinth has grown again after Michael Rakowitz unveiled his work ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’  on the 28th March 2018. The work recreates the legendary winged bird of Nineveh and is made entirely of empty Iraqi date syrup cans.

This original was destroyed along with many other important works when ISIS stormed the Mosul Museum in 2015.

The artwork is part of a far larger project which will see Rakowitz attempt to recreate the thousands of artefacts that were looted by the terrorist group.

More information past commissions at the Fourth Plinth can be found here.

Information about other art exhibitions in London can be found here.


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