Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse presents a sculpture of a skeletal horse for the Fourth Plinth in homage to the proposed equine statue of William IV (1765-1837), intended for display on the plinth, but never completed. Haacke intended the sculpture to blend with the traditional glyptoteque of statuary in Trafalgar Square: “I hope the other two horses on Trafalgar Square, the one carrying Charles I, strutting, and the other, with George IV on its back, rather stoic, accept the newcomer graciously and recognise that their temporary companion has a lot to talk about.”
The image of the horse is derived from an etching ‘The Skeleton of a Horse’ by George Stubbs (1742-1806), whose studies of equine dissections and movement, ‘The Anatomy of The Horse’ was published in 1766, during the lifetime of the King. An electronic ribbon is tied to the horse’s front leg, which displays a live ticker of stock and share prices from the London Stock Exchange, and also represents the idea of the sculpture as a gift to the public. More specifically the electronic stream of figures and economic information creates an awareness of the global activities of trading in the City of London, and by subtle implication the division of wealth between rich and poor. Haacke implies links between power, money and history through making visible the structures of the horse and suggesting a metaphorical link to the hidden substructures of the city and to the past meanings of the fourth plinth. Haacke notes the superficiality of lifestyle and glamour associated with international financial trading while “the less fortunate look to the bare bones of the horseplay of today’s gentry”, and hopes that spectators might be “intrigued by what the ticker of the London Stock Exchange tells them about their fortunes”.
Hans Haacke was born 1936 in Cologne, Germany, and he lives and works in New York. His early work employed physical and organic processes, such as condensation, in what he called ‘systems’, until his focus shifted to the socio-political field of equally interdependent dynamics. For the last four decades Haacke has been examining relationships between art, power and money, and has addressed issues of free expression and civic responsibilities in democratic societies. Haacke’s practice is difficult to categorise, moving from object to image to text, from painting to photography, at times of a provocative nature.
There have been previous nine previous commissions: Mark Wallinger, Ecce Homo, 1999; Bill Woodrow, Regardless of History, 2000; Rachel Whiteread, Monument, 2001; Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant, September 2005; Thomas Schütte, Model for a Hotel, 2007; Antony Gormley One & Other, 2009; Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2011 – subsequently purchased for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich; and Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig 101, 2012; Katharina Fritsch, Hahn / Cock, 2013.
The Fourth Plinth Programme was initiated in 1998 by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) with the support of the Cass Sculpture Foundation. In 1999 responsibility was transferred to the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority. The Fourth Plinth Programme is commissioned by the Mayor’s Culture Team, and the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, who have been responsible for placing works since 2005. The programme is funded by the Mayor of London with support from Arts Council England.
The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group: Jo Baxendale, Relationship Manager, Visual Art, Arts Council England; Iwona Blazwick – Director of Whitechapel Gallery; Mick Brundle – Principal, Arup Associates; Jeremy Deller – Artist; Tamsin Dillon –Director, Liverpool Biennale; Ekow Eshun – Writer, Broadcaster (Chair); Grayson Perry – Artist; Matthew Slotover – Co-director, Frieze; Jon Snow – Broadcaster; Justine Simons – Greater London Authority (Director, Fourth Plinth Programme)