Preview: Katharina Fritsch’s Fourth Plinth sculpture

by rebeccaswirsky

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Katharina Fritsch, 'Maquette for Hahn / Cock'.
Katharina Fritsch, ‘Maquette for Hahn / Cock’. Copyright : James O Jenkins.

The commissions for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square have had a habit of stimulating lively debate on the role of art and this year’s project promises to be no exception. Currently, the Fourth Plinth’s Facebook page depicts the numerals 25/7 on a startling ultramarine background – a reference to the Mayor of London’s unveiling date of the latest commission, completed by German-born Katharina Fritsch. Fritsch, who represented Germany in the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995, typically creates animals, typically in one colour only. The Fourth Plinth will feature her work Cock, a 4.7m high vivid blue cockerel, made of stainless steel and fibreglass, which will blaze against Trafalgar Square’s subdued greys.

Fritsch’s use of intense colour gives her sculptures uncanny status, while the cockerel is, in Fritsch’s eyes, a symbol for regeneration, awakening and strength, referring with irony to Britain’s male-defined society and to her thoughts about biological determinism. But it’s the cockerel’s role as France’s national symbol and its positioning underneath Lord Admiral Nelson, who led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which has incited controversy. The Thorney Island Society, of which Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Nicholas Underhill is president, lodged an appeal to Westminster Council when the commission was first announced in April. Jane Stubbs, the society’s chairman, wrote, “We cannot see any logical reason for the proposed sculpture to be placed on the Fourth Plinth.”

Art, however, is rarely logical. Indeed, Fritsch describes her Fourth Plinth commission as a ‘species interloper’. People, she says, can see their own characters in the animal sculptures she creates (previously she has created a black rat-king and emerald-green elephant, both large in size and equal in their harnessing of the uncanny). Soon Cock will sit proudly overlooking summer swarms of tourists and city workers, dressed in blazing ultramarine blue and crowing, no doubt, at the view.

  • Katharina Fritsch’s commission for the Fourth Plinth will be unveiled on 25 July 2013

This review was first published in July 2013 on the online Royal Academy of Arts Magazine.