06 May, 2009

Let the war hero have his plinth

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

What goes on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square has nothing to do with art anyway, so let the Battle of Britain nostalgists have their day

Am I the only person in Britain who doesn’t care very much what goes on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square? The passions raised by this empty plinth, originally designed for an equestrian statue, totally baffle me. To many people the most important artistic issue in Britain appears to be what work goes next on this supposedly special site at the heart of London.

The latest excitement is a campaign to get a statue of Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park placed on the plinth for six months. It has the backing of Boris Johnson, and its supporters are making what I guess is intended to be a subtle diplomatic argument on behalf of proper figurative art; it’s just for six months, they say, and will simply become part of the lively debate on public art that more modern works on the plinth have stimulated. It’s absolutely not, say art critic William Packer and novelist Frederick Forsyth in today’s Times, an insidious attempt to replace all that vile modern nonsense with a proper statue of a famous person.

Well I rather think it is. I don’t think many people are going to see this as anything except the revenge of conservatives with a small c (and probably with a big one, too.) A Battle of Britain hero, eh? Makes a nice change from that German artist Schütte. I went to that Düsseldorf once, no wonder they bombed London, eh? It must have been revenge.

Let’s face it, this will be a chance for every purblind traditionalist in Britain to gloat that modern art is doomed and is about to go into the dustbin where it belongs, along with its New Labour supporters.

That will be the spin, and let them have their five minutes of free rant. The plinth has become a silly stage for meaningless “debates” that don’t add anything to the real aesthetic life of Britain. And yes, Britain does have a real aesthetic life. But no one notices it because it’s hidden by sterile pantomimes like the fourth plinth.

It’s time for the avant garde to make a tactical withdrawal from a site that always was better suited to the academic, the pompous and the conventional than to anything truly subversive. Let the Battle of Britain nostalgists have their day and let the fourth plinth pass into decent oblivion, as just another minor London landmark.

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