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Finalists for London’s Top Public Art Spot Include a Drone-Topped Dessert and an Iraqi Deity

Sculptures by Huma Bhabha, Damián Ortego, Heather Phillipson, Michael Rakowitz, and Raqs Media Collective are in the running to occupy the Fourth Plinth next year.

David Shrigley, “Really Good” (photo by Gautier Deblonde)

For the past five months, those crossing London’s Trafalgar Square received a massive thumbs up courtesy of David Shrigley, whose sculpture “Really Good” sat atop the Fourth Plinth. The towering thumb will remain on the pedestal — which has hosted government-commissioned public art since 2005 — for another year, but the search for a new resident is underway.

Huma Bhabha, “Untitled” (photo by James O Jenkins, courtesy of the artist)

Last week, the Mayor of London’s Culture Team released its short list of five artworks in the running for the spot. Proposed by international artists and collectives, they range from elegant to kooky. Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha’s “Untitled” may be the most inscrutable of all the candidates; it combines brown cork and white polystyrene to form a highly textured figure that bears just slight indications of the human form. The New Delhi–based Raqs Media Collective’s “The Emperor’s Old Clothes” resembles a refined, classical Greek or Roman statue, except it features no figure at all. Intended to represent the physical remnants of imperial power, Raqs’ draped white robe is the most subdued contender — particularly since it’s up against a sculpture by Londoner Heather Phillipson, who combines dessert and drones to present a sleek, seductive work with sinister undertones. Described as “a monument to over-confidence and impending collapse,” it balances a tantalizing cherry atop a dollop of whipped cream — only the perfection is tainted by a predatory fly and drone. The work’s title, “THE END,” pretty sums up its unfortunately fitting message for our era.

Raqs Media Collection, “The Emperor’s Old Clothes” (photo by James O Jenkins, courtesy of the artists and Frith Street Gallery)
Heather Phillipson, “THE END” (photo by James O Jenkins, courtesy of the artist)

Damián Ortego’s proposal is a playful option, stacking a truck, oil cans, and a ladder to form a tower, like a child’s carefree but precarious arrangement of toys. In terms of an eye-catching color palette, the Mexican artist’s work is surpassed only by the submission of Chicago-based Michael Rakowitz. His “The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist” remembers the many crimes of cultural destruction committed by ISIS: it takes the form of the Lamassu, specifically paying tribute to one that was destroyed when terrorists trashed Iraq’s Mosul Museum. Shaped from the shells of Iraqi date syrup cans, the winged creature would stand in vivid color in a material that nods to a once-thriving industry.

Damián Ortega, “High Way” (photo by James O Jenkins, courtesy of the artist)
Michael Rakowitz, “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” (photo by James O Jenkins, courtesy of the artist)

The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group is now asking the public to weigh in, through its website, on which sculpture should occupy London’s most prominent public art site next year. The announcement arrives just two weeks after Friends of the High Line shared its own short list of works competing to inaugurate New York City’s new Fourth Plinth equivalent, coming in 2018.

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