Mayor Boris Johnson along with Ekow Eshun, Chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, and the German/US based artist Hans Haacke have unveiled the latest commission for the Trafalgar Square programme. ‘Gift Horse’ by Hans Haacke is the tenth sculpture to be unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s most famous plinth.
Looming like a dinosaur, Gift Horse portrays a skeletal, riderless horse – a wry comment on the equestrian statue of William IV originally planned for the plinth. Tied to the horse’s front leg is an electronic ribbon displaying live the ticker of the London Stock Exchange, completing the link between power, money and history. The horse is derived from an engraving in The Anatomy of the Horse of 1766 by George Stubbs; the famous English painter whose works are represented in the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.
Born in Cologne, Hans Haacke lives and works in New York. For the last four decades Haacke has been examining the relationships between art, power and money, and has addressed issues of free expression and civic responsibilities in democratic societies in his work. He works in many different mediums including painting, photography and written text. He has had recent solo exhibitions at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (2014); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2012); MIT List Visual Arts Centre, Cambridge, MA (2011); X-Initiative, New York (2009); and Akademie der Künste, Berlin (2006). Haacke’s work has been included in four Documentas and numerous biennials around the world. He shared a Golden Lion Award with Nam June Paik for the best pavilion at the 45th Venice Biennale (1993), and in 2000 he unveiled a permanent installation in the Reichstag, Berlin.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said: ‘As Hans Haacke’s take on the equestrian statue trots into Trafalgar Square, it brings another reason for Londoners and tourists to visit this cultural landmark. Gift Horse is a startlingly original comment on the relationship between art and commerce and I hope it will stimulate as much debate as the other works that have appeared on the Fourth Plinth.’
Ekow Eshun, Chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, said: ‘Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse is an important, arresting sculpture. It asks questions about the role of money and power in modern London. And it marks the Fourth Plinth programme’s continued commitment to bring the work of leading British and international artists to the heart of the city and into dialogue with the public.’
Joyce Wilson, Area Director, London, Arts Council England, said: ‘The Fourth Plinth showcases high quality works of art in the public realm and we are pleased to continue our support for this project through our Grants for the arts programme. It plays an important role in engaging audiences in debate about arts and culture generally, and art in the public realm particularly. Haacke’s Gift Horse is the 10th sculpture to appear on the Fourth Plinth and will no doubt challenge and delight visitors to Trafalgar Square in equal measure.’
In his dedication speech, Mayor Johnson said: “As Hans Haacke’s take on the equestrian statue trots into Trafalgar Square, it brings another reason for Londoners and tourists to visit this cultural landmark. Gift Horse is a startlingly original comment on the relationship between art and commerce and I hope it will stimulate as much debate as the other works that have appeared on the Fourth Plinth.” He added, “There will be those who say that this undeniably underfed beast … is a symbol of the excessive pursuit of austerity and the [chancellor] George-Osborne-diet approach to life. But I say absolutely not,” Johnson said. The mayor added his own tongue-in-cheek interpretation of “this emaciated quadruped” after some had expressed surprise that he had not vetoed it before it was given an 18-month stint on the plinth. He said: “In those fabulous tubular structures you will see symbolised the vital infrastructure – the tube that must run beneath the surface of any great and beautiful city. The tubular structures that have received such fantastic investment thanks to our chancellor… and indeed playing a part in the greatest economic recovery this city has ever seen, and the driving force of the UK and indeed [the] European economy.” The mayor then turned to Haacke, to say: “I hope you share my artistic interpretation,” sparking laughter from an audience that included many senior figures from the art world.
As well as being funded by the Mayor of London, Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Photo: © P C RobinsonArtlyst 2015