Monumental bronze sculptures of a skeletal, riderless horse and a “thumbs-up” sign will take their place on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth in 2015 and 2016, as Hans Haacke and David Shrigley were announced the next two winning artists of the annual commission.
The 10m high hand – featuring a comically extended thumb – will be the first piece of giant civic sculpture ever made by Mr Shrigley, a Macclesfield-born artist nominated for last year’s Turner Prize.
Speaking at a London City Hall event to announce the winners, Mr Shrigley said his work, Really Good, was a “slightly satirical” comment on the power of art to change society at a moment when the country’s economic fortunes were on the turn.
“On the one hand it’s completely ridiculous to suggest that public artwork can aid the economic recovery . . . but then maybe it isn’t, because if you genuinely believe art is a positive thing, you have to quantify that positive effect,” he said.
Mr Haacke’s Gift Horse is a play on the original 1841 plan for the plinth – an equestrian statue of William IV – with the added twist of an electronic ribbon tied to the horse’s front leg displaying a live ticker feed from the London Stock Exchange.
Ekow Eshun, chair of the Fourth Plinth commissioning group, said Mr Haacke’s horse sculpture was a “beautiful” and “poetic” commentary on the relationship between art, capital and society. “It’s a reference to our history but also to the fact that money is the hidden dynamic that fuels our city for good or bad. It’s . . . a timely piece in the economic circumstances we live in.”
Mr Haacke, a Cologne-born artist who now lives and works in New York, modelled the sculpture on an etching by George Stubbs, the 18th century equestrian artist whose works are displayed in the National Gallery behind the plinth.
Six artists were shortlisted for the commissions, including Mark Leckey, Marcus Coates, Ugo Rondinone and Liliane Lijn. Some 40,000 people visited an exhibition of shortlisted models, and their comments on the works passed on to the commissioning group.
The Fourth Plinth initiative, which has been running since 1998, is funded by the City Hall and supported by Arts Council England, the national funding body.
Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, said the sculptures were each “wryly enigmatic in their own way”.
Mr Shrigley is planning to have his sculpture made by Powderhall Bronze, an Edinburgh fine art foundry that combines the traditional “lost wax” technique with the use of modern materials.