Gift Horse

London Accepts Gift Horse


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In a wry homage to the “starving artist," a bronze statue of a skeletal horse was unveiled this week in Trafalgar Square. But the bare bones statue is fitted out with a live ticker feed from the London Stock Exchange causing one to wonder whether observers are actually stopping to admire the work or to check their investments

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The man behind the artwork, titled Gift Horse, is 78 year old, German-American sculptor Hans Haacke. Haacke was born in Cologne, Germany. He studied at the Staatliche Werkakademie in Kassel, Germany, from 1956 to 1960. He was a student of Stanley William Hayter, a well-known and influential English printmaker, draftsman, and painter. From 1961 to 1962 he studied on a Fulbright grant at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. From 1967 to 2002 Haacke was a professor at the Cooper Union in New York City.

Haacke has become known as a political artist, a title he rejects out of hand. Haacke says:

"It is uncomfortable for me to be a politicized artist.... the work of an artist with such a label is in danger of being understood one dimensionally without exception.... All artwork has (such) a political component, whether it's intended or not."

According to the BBC, London mayor Boris Johnson described the Gift Horse as "a startlingly original comment on the relationship between art and commerce".

The statue said to be a symbol of City excess and political austerity, is displayed on the square's Fourth Plinth, the tenth such artwork to occupy that space. The last, being a giant blue cockerel rooster- its feathers proudly upstanding, its coxcomb as stiff as a pennant in the breeze which stood for a year and a half.

Already there has been much speculation of what the sculptor was trying to say. From the “horses mouth" so to speak, Haacke responded to that question reluctantly saying only:

“The title is Gift Horse and that implies that something is off… The little I know about British politics is that austerity is the official program, so I heard him [Johnson] question that I was surprised. . . It is an invitation to make connections, but I would not like to give directions. I'm sure there will be a diversity of responses. That is not only true for this, but any kind of art."

London's Mayor, Boris Johnson provided his own tongue-in-cheek interpretive slant on the statue's symbolism:

“There will be those that say this undeniably unfed, emaciated quadruped is a warning, a memento mori, a symbol of the pursuit of austerity and the [Chancellor of the Exchequer] George Osborne diet approach to life. "But I say no, my friends. This wonderful sculpture stands for the horse in all its incarnations... in these fabulous tubular structures we see symbolized the vital infrastructure - the tube - that must run beneath the surface of any great and beautiful city."

Gift Horse will be on display through 2016

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