Having bucked its rider, this 13 ft-tall equine skeleton looks as though it might be galloping in from the Apocalypse. It’s newly perched on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square, formerly a mews, has since the 1800s been a public space used for rallies and demonstrations, concerts and protests. juggling and acrobats, picnics, pigeons and pavement art. It also has stone lions, fountains, and four large plinths.Three are occupied - a solid citizen like George IV sits astride his hefty horse - but since 1999 specially commissioned artworks have occupied the fourth space, each with a tenure of about 18 months.
As I walk by or across the Square frequently, I get attached to the Fourth Plinth. I was sad when time was up for Katherina Fristch’s wonderful blue cockerel (Blog 240). But here, from another German artist, is a an equally powerful and intriguing sculpture.
Skeletal and riderless, High Horse's only ornamentation is a live ticker tape on teh uplifted leg. It is linked to the London Stock Exchange and tied up in a ribbon as a gift to all. It is intended as "a darkly comic commentary on world finance, nationalism, power and public art". The title underlinies this: anyone acting as if they are superior to the listener may be told to "get off your high horse".
The artist says that Gift Horse is also an oblique tribute to two Britons: Adam Smith, who wrote the Wealth of Nations (1766), and George Stubbs, who in the same year published his Anatomy of the Horse.
It’s all of a piece with what Hans Haacke has done most of his life: work which makes visible the invisible connections between art, capital and society. The ticker tape is set to remind us that money is the hidden dynamic fuelling our city, for good and for bad; that corporate sponsorship of art, while very worthy, is of material use to sponsors by enhancing their public reputation. And both sponsor and artist are aware of this exchange. Haacke is intent on making this relationship clear to us, the viewers, as well. Interestingly the prestigious art critic Hal Foster in today's London Review of Books extends this to private/semi public museums housing the collections of multi millionaires. He calls them "museums of equity display. equal parts prestige and portfolio".
Ekow Eshun, who chaired the commissioning group, said: "(High Horse) is a bit of a memento mori', which means "remember (that you have) to die". The ancient theory and practice of reflecting on mortality was a way of confronting the vanity of earthly life, all earthly goods and pursuits and achievements.
Ekow Eshun again "It's a beautiful piece, it's a poetic piece and it is especially timely in the economic circumstances we live in".