Gift Horse takes up Fourth Plinth duties

Say goodbye to the giant bright blue cockerel. It sat there, quietly, with great equanimity, never wavering in its determined poise upon the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Superbly sardonic – the artist behind it, Katharina Fritsch has described Hahn/Cock as a feminist sculpture – the work of art has been received exceptionally well. Alas, as is the nature of the space, it has to make way for the next installation, another equally wry piece.
The animal theme continues also, with Hans Haacke’s severe and skeletal horse taking charge of the plinth in a similarly dramatic way to its former occupant, except, instead of the humour, the tone is decidedly more serious (in an overt way that is).
Many, many years ago, the Fourth Plinth was intended as a spot to house a statute in honour of William IV, Britain’s de facto head of state between 1830 and 1837. The king would have been astride a horse, of course.
The link between that intended concept and today’s temporary bronze sculpture offering is evident, for it not only highlights the excesses of the political elite back then; it also points a contemptuous finger at today’s cohort of politicians as well as the City of London.
On unveiling the statute – the image of which references an etching by the English painter George Stubbs – Boris Johnson, mayor of London, offered a decidedly personal interpretation of what he believes Haacke’s Gift Horse is trying to say.
“There will be those who say that this undeniably underfed beast, this emaciated quadruped that you’re about to see is a warning, a memento mori, a symbol of the excessive pursuit of austerity and the [UK chancellor] ‘George Osborne diet’ approach to life,” he said.
“But I say, no, my friends, absolutely not. 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.”
Haacke, who admits he was surprised when asked to submit a proposal for what he would create for the Fourth Plinth, has remained somewhat tight-lipped about whether his sculpture is a direct attack on the UK’s austerity programme.
For example, in an interview with the Guardian he said that you can read a lot into the title and its relationship with the work, but when pressed to be more straightforward, said: “I’d like to leave that [austerity] open [to interpretation]. It is an invitation to make connections, but I don’t want to give directions about which connections are to be made.”
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