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, remained largely vacant for most of its 175 years. The Royal Society of Arts conceived the Fourth Plinth Project in 1999, deciding to use the empty space for works by contemporary artists.
Works are invariably challenging, creating a sense of dissonance with the grand surroundings of Trafalgar Sq. Pieces have included Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger, a life-size statue of Jesus, which appeared tiny in contrast to the enormous plinth; Rachel Whiteread’s Monument , a clever resin copy of the plinth, turned upside down. Antony Gormley’s One & Other 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). Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset's Powerless Structures, Fig 101 (a playful boy on a rocking horse) contrasted amusingly with the haughty grandeur of nearby equestrian statues. Another horse – Hans Haacke's Gift Horse , an equine in skeletal form – was on the plinth from 2015–16. Each artwork will be exhibited for 18 months.