Trafalgar Square celebrates 25 years of Fourth Plinth art — but is it time for a permanent piece?

Seven shortlisted ideas for the next stint on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square are currently on display — but some say it is now time for a more permanent fixture.

Anyone who has passed through Trafalgar Square this century will be accustomed to the sight of fluctuating contemporary artwork atop the north-west pedestal; The Fourth Plinth Project, conceived by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

It started, in 1999, with a Christ figure, Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger — the first statue to stand atop the plinth since it was built by Charles Barry in 1841 (it was intended for an equestrian sculpture of William IV, but the money ran out, so it remained empty for more than 150 years). Since then, a rotation of 14 commissions has included a David Shrigley bronze thumbs up, a giant blue cockerel, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2,400 randomly chosen people doing whatever they pleased (Antony Gormley’s idea in 2009), a skeletal horse and an oversized dollop of whipped cream with a drone recording passers-by from the cherry on top.

This September, Theresa Margolles’s 850 Improntas (Imprints) will be installed and the shortlist for 2026 and 2028 has just been announced; it includes representations of a sweet potato, a black cat and a tiger on top of an ice-cream van.

Meanwhile, debate simmers, as it has done for decades, over the prospect of a permanent statue for the plinth (that may or may not blend in with every other statue in London). Popular contenders have included Margaret Thatcher, the late Queen, Nelson Mandela, RAF commander Sir Keith Park and Alan Turing. Then, there are many who feel the Fourth Plinth’s current purpose is unique and far more valuable, and that London is the better for it.

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The 15ft 6in-high Hahn/Cock by German artist Katherina Fritsch is one of a host of sculptures to have taken their turn on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. Credit: Shutterstock / Ron Ellis

‘The Fourth Plinth is renowned across the globe for bringing world-class contemporary art to the heart of London,’ points out Justine Simons, Deputy Mayor for Culture, Creative Industries and 24hr London Team. And yes, it has ever brought ‘out the art critic in everybody’.

‘It is important that we find ways to encourage the public to look at and become interested in art, whether it’s the great pictures in our museums or new art in public spaces, and I would encourage the public to have their say on these exciting proposals,’ adds Dr Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, where maquettes of the seven shortlisted pieces are currently on display, until March 17.