The art works that almost made the fourth plinth
Grayson Perry on a new ICA show featuring 21 works commissioned for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square
We were at the launch of a great little show at the ICA in London this morning. It’s an exhibition surveying the various art works that were commissioned for, or actually ended up on, the Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square since the project’s inception in 1998. It brings together a whole host of historical information relating to the commissions, including most dramatically, all 21 of the artists' maquettes.
These include unseen works by Chris Burden, Anish Kapoor, Jeremy Deller, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread, Sarah Lucas and Antony Gormley among others. Katharina Fritsch's big blue cockerel, Hahn/ Cock, which will be unveiled on the fourth plinth next year, is present, as is the current fourth plinth artwork, Powerless Structures, Fig 101 by Elmgreen & Dragset. It's a great place to see the works - only about a quarter of which actually made it to Trafalgar Square.
Artist Grayson Perry, who came on-board as one of the commissioners in 2009 told Phaidon a little bit about the commissioning process for the fourth plinth.
“We put out a shout to a huge long list of artists - somewhere round a hundred. We all suggest names that we think might make a good go of it and they respond with a proposal. We whittle that portion down to six. And then we whittle those six down to two.
“It’s got to be someone who you think would work in the situation of the fourth plinth – there’s no point in getting a painter in! A lot of them they either don’t want to do it or they don’t come up with an idea. All we tell them is the budget and for how long it’ll be up there. The main challenge with public sculpture is health and safety, durability, practicality, and not offending anyone. All those things – it’s a nightmare. I don’t know if I’d be able to hack it.
“The first one that I commissioned was the Antony Gormley and it worked unbelievably well. For me it was a landmark in the public’s relationship to contemporary art. Partly because of the involvement (Gormley invited people to do whatever they wanted on the plinth) but mostly because it really seemed to bring home the idea that really, anything could be art now. The dialogue had moved on."
Perry said he was looking forward to seeing Hahn/ Cock in situ. “The crucial thing is going to be the texture. It’s got to be matt; it’s got to be velvety so that it absorbs light. It can’t be shiny. There’s just something about that particular blue. It’s so unnatural as a colour, it’s a pure chemical.”
The structure is apparently approaching completion in Katharina Fritsch’s studio in Switzerland. Mick Brundle, principal at Arup Associates and part of the commissioning group, told us: “This thing is four-and-a-half metres high - the size of a small building - so you have to make sure they’ve done due diligence.
“It’s in the public domain so you really don’t want it falling over. They’ve worked out the strength of steel needed in those legs. The actual body itself is very light but it presents quite a big mass to wind. Then it resolves itself to these two legs that are massive stainless steel tubes which, in turn, are connected to a massive stainless steel base.
“And then there’s the finish which has taken a lot of thought. Katherina is doing a lot of work to get that blue to work outside. (Yves Klein famously used the colour indoors). So it’s got to be a very clever system of paint layers to get to that iridescent, ‘cobalt’ quality. But it also has to be finished in such a way that all the pigeons and the 'particulates' in London don’t mess it up. The coating is a high-tech series of paint layers but the substrate to that is glass reinforced plastic and that’s cast in a series of shells that are then bolted together. So you create this thing by creating these plates and they’re bolted to the armature. From what I’ve seen of them in Switzerland it looks pretty spectacular." Hahn/ Cock will appear in the square under cover of the night sometime next year.
“They dismantle it," Brundle said. "Then they reconstruct it in London in a warehouse. Then, under the veil of night, they’ll bring this giant cock into the middle of the west end, completely shielded, and install it in its prefabricated form. When the sun comes up in the morning there’s this huge great bird on the plinth.” Until that moment you can see it’s rather reduced, but possibly no less spectacular, forebear and its cousins at the ICA until January 20.