Friday, 10 July 2009

The Fourth Plinth

I think One and Other - Anthony Gormley’s ‘living sculpture’ in London's Trafalgar Square - is meant to be a radical work of art. For 100 days, a different person will stand upon the plinth and do what they do for one hour at a time. Of course, on many different occasions in the past, people have gathered upon the square’s fourth plinth, most memorably on VE Day in 1945. The people that did so, ordinary people transformed by their extraordinary experiences, gathered there unencumbered by the ludicrous health and safety apparatus that envelops the plinth at the moment. This safety netting only reinforces the general mediocrity of One and Other and its participants. Walking past it recently, I noticed a women in a floral-print dress attempting a half-dance atop her column.

Anthony Gormley, the Ampleforth-educated artist at the heart of the cultural establishment, no doubt believes himself to be a radical, a transgressive. In fact, he simply enhances the standing of the great figures celebrated in the square and its environs by drawing attention to the lack of ambition and talent of his attention- seeking living sculptures.

Such nonsense reminds me of another attempt to democratise and radicalise Trafalgar Square. The artist Marc Quinn made a sculpture of a woman, Alison Lapper, who was born without arms. It was a groundbreaking piece of sculpture, said the critics, which confronted an embarrassed and ignorant public with the uncomfortable truth about disability. Then, it was pointed out by historians that, for the best part of two centuries, Trafalgar Square had been occupied by a man with one arm and one eye, who just happened to be our greatest naval hero.

Personally, I would put a Spitfire on the fourth plinth and have done with it.

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