Fourth Plinth Project

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Three of the four plinths at Trafalgar Sq’s corners are occupied by notables: King George IV on horseback, and military men General Sir Charles Napier and Major General Sir Henry Havelock. One, originally intended for a statue of William IV, has largely remained vacant for the past 150 years. The Royal Society of Arts conceived the unimaginatively titled Fourth Plinth Project in 1999, deciding to use the empty space for works by contemporary artists.

They commissioned three works: Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger (1999), a life-size statue of Jesus, which appeared tiny in contrast to the enormous plinth; Bill Woodrow’s Regardless of History (2000) and Rachel Whiteread’s Monument (2001), a resin copy of the plinth, turned upside down, and Marc Quinn's controversial marble nude sculpture of a heavily pregnant disabled woman called Alison Lapper.

The Mayor’s office has since taken over what's now called the Fourth Plinth Commission, continuing with the contemporary-art theme. One of the most memorable commissions so far was Antony Gormley’s One & Other (2009), which featured no inanimate object but simply a space for individuals to occupy – each person spent an hour on the plinth, addressing the crowds on any chosen subject, performing or simply sitting quietly. The project ran 24 hours a day for 100 days, and the rules specified that the participants spent their hour on the plinth alone, could do what they wanted as long as it wasn’t illegal and were allowed to take with them anything they could carry.

Following Yinka Shonibare’s MBE Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2011), a wink to the square’s dominant figure, Mayor Boris Johnson announced in early 2011 that artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset would present Powerless Structures, Fig 101, a golden boy astride a rocking horse, in 2012. It was replaced by Katharina Fritsch's Hahn/Cock, a huge, bright blue sculpture of a cockerel. Each artwork will be exhibited for 18 months.