Skeletal horse sculpture rides onto London’s Fourth Plinth

Story highlights

A new sculpture for Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth unveiled Thursday

'Gift Horse' by German-born artist Hans Haacke will sit on plinth for 18 months

Haacke's is the 10th artwork to be displayed on the plinth

CNN  — 

From an iconic marble statue of a heavily pregnant disabled artist to the more recent giant blue cockerel, London’s Fourth Plinth art project has always provided a controversial modern twist to the traditional landmarks around London’s Trafalgar Square.

The latest offering, “Gift Horse,” which took up residence in the Square’s northwest corner Thursday, looks set to continue the tradition with a work that explores the link between power, money and history, according to organizers.

Unveiled by London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, the sculpture created by German-born conceptual artist Hans Haacke portrays a skeletal riderless horse with an ribbon-shaped electronic ticker tied to its left leg showing live market data from London’s Stock Exchange.

“‘Gift Horse’ is a startlingly original comment on the relationship between art and commerce and I hope it will stimulate as much debate as other works that have appeared on the plinth,” Johnson said.

The 13-feet high bronze skeleton is a “wry comment,” organizers say, on the equestrian statue of King William IV originally planned, but never realized for the plinth more than 150 years ago.

Further nods to the past and the sculpture’s location can be found in the pose which is based on the engraving “The Anatomy of a Horse” by English artist George Stubbs, whose famous equine portraits hang on the walls of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square’s north side.

One of London’s most famous landmarks, Trafalgar Square is popular with tourists. Named after a famed 1805 British naval victory against the French, its centerpiece is a column commemorating Lord Horatio Nelson, who died during the conflict.

In a career spanning half-a-century, Haacke has frequently explored the interconnectedness of art, power and money through installations, paintings, photography and written text.

Many of Haacke’s most famous works have explored systems, be it physical – as evidenced by his famous 1960s work “Condensation Cube” – or the social and political as seen in “MoMA Poll” (1970), “A Breed Apart” (1978) and more recently his “Der Bevölkerung” (The People) installed in Germany’s Reichstag building in Berlin in 2000.

“It’s a very prominent spot,” said the 78-year-old, reflecting on the “Gift Horse’s” positioning in Trafalgar Square, “It’s very beautiful. Everybody sees it.”

“There are other statues and the idea of having the empty plinth which has been made available periodically for artists is a great idea,” added Haacke.

Around Trafalgar Square there was mixed reaction to the sculpture.

“It definitely doesn’t look like a horse’s head, does it? Looks more dinosaur-ish to me,” said a slightly baffled female day-tripper from Wales, while another tourist seemed equally confused.

“My first impression was that it looked like an alien, because you see it and then you think, huh? What is it?” said Toni, visiting from Switzerland.

Local reaction was more positive though.

“I just think it’s very witty,” said Londoner Tony Francis. “I can see the (George) Stubbs influence. And I love the Stock Exchange (ribbon) scrolling round and the way they merge into each other.”

“Gift Horse” is the 10th artwork to sit on the plinth and follows the “Hahn/Cock,” created by German artist Katharina Fritsch which was in residence from July 2013 to February this year.