Arts & Equitainment: A Gift Horse

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A Gift Horse for Trafalgar Square


A plinth (plinTH) is a heavy base of stone or wood used to  support a statue or column. It is also very hard to say quickly several times in a row.

There are four plinths in Trafalgar Square in London, one in each corner. The two southern plinths are topped by statues  Henry Havelock and Charles James Napier, both of whom were Generals who commanded major forces in India during the British Raj. The Northeastern plinth supports an equestrian statue of George IV but the fourth plinth, designed to carry another Equestrian statue of William IV remains empty. This was because the fourth sculpture was never completed due to lack of funds, an state of affairs many equestrians will understand. For over 150 years, debate raged as to what to do with the empty plinth.

Finally in 1998, The Royal Society of Arts agreed to showcase a succession of three temporary artworks on the fourth plinth. It was such a success that the plinth has been permanently dedicated to the temporary display of works of art.

On February 7, 2014, it was announced that the next work of art to grace the plinth would be the equestrian statue, GIFT HORSE by Hans Haacke. Planned for 2015, it’s a bronze statue of a rider-less skeletal horse with an electronic stock ticker wrapped around one leg. Haacke says the sculpture is a tribute to economist Adam Smith and horse painter George Stubbs, whose respective books, Wealth of Nations  and The Anatomy of the Horse were both published in 1766. The design comes from a sketch by Stubbs, who had designed the equestrian statue of William IV originally intended for the plinth.

The moral probably is that you should look at a gift horse on the plinth. Or not.

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