Monday 6 July 2009

Plinth Madness

So the Trafalgar Square plinth lark got hijacked by a protestor. No surprise there, though it was a pretty lame 'message' - Ban Tobacco & Actors Smoking. Hmm... It will get worse and nastier, especially as Gormley, no doubt putting a brave face on it, seems to have given the green light to any nutjob who cares to get up there and make his/her 'point' - he might live to regret that... Never mind, Gormley has more important things to do, such as appearing on The Archers, an imminent event excitedly discussed by the denizens of Ambridge this evening, ahead of an edition of Front Row much of which was devoted to the Plinth. O dear o dear... Let's get one thing straight. Such is the lamentable state of public sculpture, there was never any prospect of the empty fourth plinth being satisfactorily topped - the nearest of the various try-outs was Rachel Whiteread's ghostly inversion of the plinth itself, which could have stayed put as far as I was concerned. But no, all manner of fantastically dumb and/or fantastically badly executed ideas were tried out - and then the great self-publicist Gormley was allowed to take over with his crass notion of allowing 'ordinary people' their moment atop the plinth. The best moment in Front Row's plinth coverage was the contribution from the excellent Ben Lewis, who hailed the event as historic - in as much as it marked the most banal idea any artist was ever allowed to enact in a public space (or words to that effect). He's right of course, but what can you expect when art is viewed in terms of 'ideas' and novelty and entertainment value, as so many competing attractions in a consumer fairground? And how else would art be viewed in a culture that has lost touch with its roots? A truly modern art is always the product of a deep engagement, not with the present, still less the future, but with the past. The gods of literary modernism, for example - Eliot, Joyce, Pound - were steeped in the literature and culture of the past, rediscovering, reimagining, re-creating, knowing that there was no finding a way forward without going back, back, back. The art that consciously addresses the present rarely lasts. As Charles Peguy wrote, 'Homer is still new this morning, and nothing perhaps is as old as today's newspaper'. Or, God help us, today's art world stunt.


  1. Shallow voyeur that I am, I'm waiting with bated breath for the first 'sculpture' to take his/her clothes off. I have high hopes for a plinth-top tussle with a policeman, surrounded by baying hordes of appreciative tourists. What could be more artistic?

  2. You won't have to wait long, I'm sure Sophie. Is Malty booked to appear on the plinth at all?

    Gormley's best stuff is really rather good and also very popular. Pity he didn't just stick a big metal man on the plinth.

  3. I see it as a monument to the unknown protester. Whoever is atop the plinth will always be an avatar of Dave Spart, sometimes accompanied by his partner Sharon and, as Sophie points out, sometimes also accompanied by the forces of Fascist repression. We produce a plinth topped by a scupture that doesn't exist of someone who doesn't exist either. It's all very Zen, as timeless and as fleeting as cherry blossom. What is Dave protesting about? Most of the time he won't know and we won't know, surely a comment on our times.

  4. it's 'plinth idol' isn't it.

    who will become the people's plinth -ess?

    a shallow reflection of a shallow reflection of our '15 minutes of fame' society

    and I agree wholeheartedly with anyone who says that the idea is facile and rather naff

    don't see why we have to put anything on it anyway? an empty plinth has plenty of meaning in itself surely, as you say nige, the whiteread piece actually said everything that needed to be said.

    and the word plinth is weird.

  5. Look on the bright side Nige: at least we don't have to put up with yet another plaster cast of Gormley's cock!

  6. I wonder whether this messing around will end up creating a demand for something - indeed, anything - to be put permanently on the plinth as soon as possible. I'd welcome now what I would have found objectionable just to bring this whole palaver to an end. In fact, could it all have been a bureaucrat's cunning plan?

  7. Gaw, I imagine there might be widespread support for the permanent installation of Gordon Brown himself on top of the fourth plinth. A supply of rotten tomatoes at the base would be useful but not necessary as most would quite happily bring their own ;-)

  8. Andrew MacGillivray7 July 2009 at 22:23

    Couldn't Mr Gormless and fellow artists be persuaded to make the ultimate sacrifice for their art and appear themselves on the plinth? "Muddled heads on pikes" would might convince us all that British art had a future.