Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle that bedecked Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth May 2010 and January 2012, has now found a permanent home – the National Maritime Museum in London. As a scaled-down replica of HMS Victory, this relocation makes thematic and historical sense, and will be on display from tomorrow. It will stand outside the Maritime Museum’s new Sammy Ofer Wing, and be free to all.
This has been made possible by a public appeal for funds as well as a sizeable grant from the Art Fund. While the Art Fund put up £50,000, a massive £362,500 was raised from public donations! To that figure, the museum added £49,100, while the artist himself – in the form of the Stephen Friedman Gallery – put in another £50,000.
Yinka Shonibare said that he was ‘absolutely delighted and touched by the public’s generosity’: ‘It is testimony to the importance of keeping Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle in the country’. The Director of the National Maritime Museum, Kevin Fewster, added: ‘I am confident our millions of visitors will get great pleasure from it for years to come.’
The artwork was commission by the mayor of London for the Fourth Plinth project. It measures4.7 metres in length and 2.8 metres in diameter – an ironic play on the idea of a miniature ship in a bottle.
Elmgreen & Dragset are the artists responsible for the latest Fourth Plinth artwork – Powerless Structures, Fig. 101. This Rocking Horse sculpture work has been described by Boris Johnson as ‘a gleaming talisman to watch over our city during this fantastic Olympic year’. It operates in reference to the heroic equestrian statue originally intended for the plinth upon construction in 1841. Cast in bronze and elevated alongside Nelson himself, the child achieves the celebrated status of a military hero in his boyhood fantasy, emulating in innocent play the bloody generals of history.
In the words of the artists, this pun on public monument ‘honours the everyday battles of growing up’, encourages viewers to reconsider the everyday moments of their lives – ostensibly unspectacular, but nevertheless heroic – the struggles of the everyman celebrated alongside traditional icons of reverence. In a period of economic turmoil, foreign war, and looming environmental disaster, the artwork also asks us to look to the future, reassuring us that new heroes will indeed arise to lead mankind from the jaws of destruction.
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