London visitors will undoubtedly find themselves at some point at Trafalgar Square. Situated in front of the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square is a large plaza that frequently hosts demonstrations, fairs, and other gatherings. The name commemorates the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar–which the British navy won against Napoleon–and the giant column rising from the middle is dedicated to Lord Admiral Nelson, who died in the battle.
The four corners of the square each host a large plinth. Three of the plinths are topped with traditional, Victorian sculpture. The fourth plinth, however, is not.
Originally, the fourth plinth was meant to hold a statue of William IV, but for some reason the funds couldn’t be scraped together. For decades the plinth sat empty, until in 1999 the Royal Society of Arts tried a trial run of filling the space with contemporary art. It was a success. The Fourth Plinth Commission began plans to host contemporary artwork permanently on the plinth, with pieces rotated out after a set time limit. In 2005, the first commissioned artwork arrived on the plinth: Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant.
So far there have been six different sculptures and two announced. They tend to be a bit, shall we say, weird: the current sculpture is a giant blue rooster, while upcoming works include a large hand giving a thumbs-up sign and a horse skeleton with a stock-ticker ribbon embedded in its leg bone. The sculptures add jarring whimsy to the otherwise regal space.
Many people breeze right by the fourth plinth without noticing the strange sculpture on top. The next time you’re in London, pay special mind to the plinth on the northwest corner–you will probably see something wonderfully strange.