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Katharina Fritsch’s “Hahn/Cock” (2013) (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

LONDON — Katharina Fritsch’s “Hahn/Cock” (2010), the new sculpture placed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, was unveiled on July 25th. All critical expressions but one would fail to describe it, which is to say one must put it as clearly as it is: a huge statue of a … cockerel, painted ultramarine bright blue, standing proudly with a rooster’s dignity.

The plinth, built in 1841, was originally meant to hold an equestrian statue, never completed due to insufficient funds — economic crisis, there we went again — so the position remained vacant. At that time no one could have imagined that it would befall its current fate, temporarily displaying sculptures by some of the most renowned contemporary artists.

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Placing such art works in a place like Trafalgar Square is a challenging operation. Indeed everything that goes on the fourth plinth has to compete with the preexisting — rather glum and boring — sculptures of George IV, Generals Havelock and Napier, and Admiral Nelson. A truly funny gang, isn’t it?

Artists don’t seem to be too scared, though. Since 1998 the plinth has hosted, just to name a few: a colorful, contemporary 8 ton bird-house (Thomas Schütte, “Model for a Hotel,” 2007); a model of Nelson’s ship in a bottle, with fairly exotic sails (Yinka Shonibare, “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle,” 2010-2012); a tacky bronze boy on a rocking horse (Elmgreen and Dragset, “Powerless Structures, Fig. 101,” 2012-2013).

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Last of the list, Fritsch’s cock openly threatens Mr. Nelson and his column, which, in itself, is a rather phallic symbol of male power, mocking the persistent machismo of the square. In the artist’s words:

As a German woman, when I first came to London, the area around Trafalgar Square seemed to be very much focusing on men […] You have all these dandies, all these businessmen in their suits, who have to be powerful and successful. And they are a little bit posing like cockerels.

The language game in the title does the rest.

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Public response is generally favourable. Omitting snide comments, the others range from enthusiastic expressions of astonishment to more perplexed and perplexing observations.

Of the varied interpretations of the work, the most profound came right before its unveiling from London’s mayor, the perpetually uncombed Boris Johnson, who described the sculpture as: “A woman’s rendition of a man … there you go … or something like that.”

He didn’t sound very convincing.

Hahn/Cock will remain on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for 18 months, through January 2015.

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Francesco Dama

Francesco Dama is a freelance art writer based in Rome, Italy. He regularly writes for several print and online publications, and wastes most of his time on Instagram.

3 replies on “The City and the (Giant, Blue) Cock”

  1. The sculpture isn’t just a “phallic symbol”. Historically, it’s a French emblem. The work is a sly play on the entire history of the Square and on good old Horatio Nelson himself.

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