The Plinth, a Showcase for Public Art - ART FIX
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The Plinth, a Showcase for Public Art

You’ve probably heard of New York’s High Line or the newly-opened Hudson Yards, but have you checked out “The Plinth”? This freshly-opened public art space on the High Line is the destination for a rotating series of contemporary art commissions.

Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019 © demerzed21 - Dreamstime

“The Plinth” is located on the Spur, the latest section of the High Line, New York’s elevated park, at 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Unlike the other parts of the High Line, which are used as walkways where visitors can stroll and picnic, the Spur’s large open-plan is conceived as a gathering space.

For the inaugural High Line Plinth, female artist Simone Leigh presents “Brick House”, a towering bronze face of a woman with African roots, whose torso is conflated with both the form of a wide skirt and a clay house.

The monumental 16-feet tall work of the gazing woman’s title comes from the term for a strong African American woman who stands with the strength, endurance, and integrity of a house made of bricks. It also has influences from the track “Brick House”, by the 1980s funk and soul band, The Commodores, which Leigh listened to on the radio as a child.

Reading about the new ‘plinth’, we couldn’t help but think of the “Fourth Plinth” in London’s Trafalgar Square.

What’s the “Fourth Plinth”? This pedestal, or base of a statue, has a fascinating and tumultuous history. Originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, this statue was never completed due to the Crown’s insufficient funds. This incompletion sparked a 150-year long debate around the plinth’s fate, leading the “Fourth Plinth” to become one of the world’s most famous public art commissions. Since 1999, the pedestal has been home to a dozen temporary artworks, causing the Mayor of London to develop “The Fourth Plinth Program”, inviting leading artists to make sculptures for the plinth. These artworks have so far included a bright blue cockerel, a golden rocking horse, a thumbs up, and even Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, 2012 © Chris Dorney
David Shrigley, Thumbs up, 2016

“The End” by British Heather Phillipson, is a sculpture of a big swirl of whipped cream with a cherry on the top. A fat black fly rests on the voluptuous cream while a drone lands on the shining cherry.

Heather Phillipson, The End, 2020

“The End” is a response to both the physical and ideological context of Trafalgar square: a place of both mass-protest and celebration. The organisers describe the upcoming sculpture to represent both “exuberance and unease”. The drone communicates surveillance, while the fly could be interpreted as a fly on the wall, perhaps another version of observation next to the drone. The unstable, top-heavy nature of the work exudes a sensation of unease, indicating that something is on the brink of collapse. At Art Fix, we believe both the title and the work’s shape could allude to the apocalyptic state of British politics. 

What was supposed to be this British artist’s big breakthrough — an art installation in the epicenter of London with a celebrated public unveiling — turned into quite a disappointment. With all the public into lockdown due to the impact of the coronavirus the installation of “The End” has been delayed to a later date when “Londoners and visitors can properly enjoy it”. 

Empty Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square
Heather Phillipson, The End, 2020 photo: Art Fix

UPDATE

After a four-month delay the giant whipped cream sculpture has been unveiled on 30 July 2020 in Trafalgar Square. It will be in place until spring 2022 and is the 13th public art project on the Fourth Plinth. Art Fix is very pleased having a female artist in a public place dominated by male statues.

Both the New York and the London Plinths are highly recommended Art Fix tips when in London and New York!

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