New Fourth Plinth sculpture by Elmgreen & Dragset unveiled today by Joanna Lumley; but what does it all mean?
The new artwork to top Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth was revealed today, with Joanna Lumley pulling the curtain to unveil a giant golden sculpture of a boy upon a rocking horse; ‘our golden boy on his beautiful rocking horse, a completely unthreatening and adorable creature’, ‘that speaks for itself without any prompting from a human’.
Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 is by artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, and 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.
The Fourth Plinth programme is one of the most high profile art events in London. As Lumley noted, its succession of artworks ‘sees everybody becomes an instant art critic’; ‘everybody knows what should be there, what’s better than last time, what’s marvellous, what’s wonderful, what’s dreadful’. Now that the sculpture has been unveiled to the public it cannot be ignored, destined to become an object of debate, to be loved or hated. It is one of the many components that makes up ‘this miracle of a place that is called London’.
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