7th November 2007 — 30th May 2009
4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square is a curious platform for contemporary
public art; on the other plinths stand two generals and a king.
Whatever the intention and intervention of the art proposed for this
plinth, the work that resides can only be viewed as 'public art'.
'Public' in the sense that whatever is placed there must be considered
in terms of its context to the space, not just the blocks of stone
beneath it, but the rest of the square, the fountains, the other
buildings, the weather and the sound.
It is with this in mind that I have been watching Thomas Schütte's sculpture Model for a Hotel in the two months since it was unveiled. I walk through Trafalgar Square twice a day, to and from work. In the morning I enter from the northeast at the bottom of St Martin's Place and exit down Whitehall to the South. The 4th plinth is on the northwest corner of the square and from the angle I view it from it is hard to distinguish any form or structure. As the sculpture frequently disappears into the brickwork of Canada House behind it, it raises questions as to where and what the space is that informs where public art begins and ends. Surely, from wherever you can see the work, the work will exist in the realms and matrices of an art platform. This is my overriding disappointment with this sculpture. Unlike showing it in a white-walled gallery (as a maquette version has been, where it can stand alone, articulating it's planes of colour and form, and you can also ignore its architectural pre-function), it now has to compete with the architecture surrounding it. A sculpture in this exterior domain should absorb and reflect the surroundings. Model for a Hotel attempts to do this with light - a green glow sometimes appears on the edge of the sheets of yellow glass, a blue glow on red. The glass however disappears from view more often than not and from many angles it resembles nothing more than the scaffolding that covers many other buildings nearby. Up close it works and from beneath it succeeds, when all but the colour of the sky can be removed from peripheral vision. The sculpture flattens and fattens and the colours are more vivid. It is here though that you can witness the dirt that has collected on the yellow sheets. No bird shit though. The model was jokingly meant 'for the birds' as well, it seems however, that the infamous pigeons of Trafalgar Square won't go anywhere near it. They will happily sit on George IV on the plinth opposite and let guano slime down his cheeks.
This sculpture is one that takes but does not give, or give enough. A parasite like so many other ugly glass architectural frumps taking up space around London.
Further on in my daily walk I go past St George Wharf in Vauxhall, a building consistently thrashed by critics for its ugliness (with good reason). Model for a Hotel looks like the wretched, malnourished child of St George Wharf. It should have stayed inside, out of the public eye.