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19 Sep, 2009

A monument to bad public art

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Antony Gormley’s ‘plinth people’ don’t stand up for democracy, they just stand there – and they look stupid

The current issue of the magazine Art Monthly has an editorial about Antony Gormley’s fourth plinth artwork. Pointing out the difficulty of actually making out what’s going on up on the lofty plinth when you stand in Trafalgar Square, it wonders who this participatory experience is actually for – the volunteers themselves? The audience of Sky Arts? Tourists? The internet? It concludes that “the whole project is just another example of the kind of risk-free, health-and-safety approved, highly administered experience that constitutes most public art today”.

Champions of One and Other in the national press have been quite aggressive in asserting that if you don’t like it, you must be some stuck-in-the-mud conservative with a shotgun by the bed and an illicit pack of foxhounds in the garage. It’s claimed by fans such as Frank Skinner that Gormley’s “plinth people” (in Skinner’s words) provide a litmus test of where you stand on modern culture. If you’re with them, you’re for democracy, the modern world and apple pie. If you don’t dig it, you must be some kind of square.

The truth is the absolute opposite. The less you look at contemporary art, the more unfamiliar you are with its language and its capacities, and the more likely you are to submit to this second-rate artist’s self-serving rhetoric. The point about Antony Gormley is that he went to a top university and can talk to the educated classes in their own tongue. But One and Other does not walk the walk. It is a sad, feeble, ineffectual excuse for a public sculpture. All this talk about it existing in its full reality only on TV or the internet or wherever is nonsense. This is a physical work of art that involves people standing on a plinth. And the truth that some of us can’t help noticing, however much we are lectured otherwise, is that they look stupid up there.

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