Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Hans Haacke - Gift Horse

I was in central London last week so took the opportunity whilst in Trafalgar Square to see the newly installed Gift Horse by Hans Haacke, the tenth, and latest in the series of commissions for the Fourth Plinth Project. I really liked the maquette (above), when the work was proposed along with others in 2013, so it was great to see the finished sculpture full-scale, in all its glory, installed on the plinth.

Gift Horse depicts the bronze skeleton of a horse with a bow tied around its foreleg. The bow has live scrolling information from the London Stock Exchange on an LED screen. Gift Horse makes a comment on power in both the British class system, as well as a commentary on global finance.

Haacke drew inspiration for Gift Horse from acclaimed 18th-century painter George Stubbs' anatomical engravings and studies of horses collected in his portfolio - The Anatomy of the Horse. Haacke also drew inspiration from early political economist Adam Smith, a contemporary of Stubbs, and ideas contained in his book The Wealth of Nations (1776). The horse studies are so beautifully rendered.

I thought that the skeletal frame of Gift Horse actually looks quite vulnerable and fragile in comparison to the might and pomp of the horse sculpture of George IV on the other plinth across the square. I felt a similar sense of vulnerability when I first saw Mark Wallinger's Ecce Homo (1999), one of the earliest, if not the first of the Fourth Plinth exhibits.

I felt it only right to go into the National Gallery afterwards to pay a visit to Stubb's famous painting Whistlejacket, which seems so full of life and movement in comparison to the deliberately static, skeletal Gift Horse outside.