Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Horse on a hill

How about another art conundrum? Namely, is a giant white horse a talented work of art - or is it just a giant horse?

Mark Wallinger, a Turner Prize-winning artist, wants to put his 164 foot sculpture, which would be visible from 20 miles away, on a hill in Kent.

But the locals are far from impressed. They fail to see either the artistic merit or the sculpture's relevance to Kent. Why a giant horse, they ask? What has a giant horse to do with anything?

As one baffled resident said "I don't call looking out of my window at a horse's backside a thing of beauty."

But the sculptor and his sponsors, Eurostar and a property company, are pushing ahead with the project, saying "We hope people will learn to love it over time."

Well, er, unfortunately they don't seem to. And I have to ask, along with the locals, how exactly this is a work of art. Something isn't art simply because it's 33 times the size of a real horse. It has to offer something more than that, some sort of aesthetic or conceptual or emotional novelty.

If it was half horse, half cheetah maybe. If it was purple maybe. If it was a horse with a dwarf on top maybe. But just a horse?

Mark Wallinger says "The horse is the work of continuous collaboration between man and nature." It is? But there's no human being anywhere. And nothing that symbolises "collaboration". The only collaboration I can see is between a sculptor and big business.

It's the giant horse I feel sorry for. He'll be stuck there on top of a hill, no other gee-gees to keep him company, no entertainment. Nothing to do except gaze sorrowfully across the surrounding countryside, wondering what the hell he's doing there.

I have a message for Mr Wallinger - Neddy says No.


  1. I take your point Nick, but sometimes these large installations gain a fame and notoriety of their own- they become landmarks which are talked about, parodied, admired, critiqued (just as you are doing!) which is all about communication. I am thinking of the Angel of the North and in Somerset our own Straw Man. I always know which junction to come off the motorway, thanks to him!

  2. Well as it is another of those wonderful things that I have no control over - all I can say is - its really not as bad as some landmarks I have seen! In fact I quite like horses! ..... even huge ones!

  3. Cinnamon - Oh I agree these sculptures can become famous and much talked about, like the Angel of the North which was bitterly opposed when it was first suggested. But the question remains, would it be art or just a famous landmark?

  4. Kate - I knew somebody was going to say "But I love horses"! I thought it would be Baino! But "not as bad" falls a bit short of "a brilliant work of art"....

  5. Nick, I have tried so hard to 'get' modern art. I have been to galleries and looked- and worried that I am missing something! A lot of it has made me smirk in disbelief- but some of it has moved me. As to your question- would it be art of just a famous landscape- i think you would have to go physically and see it in its place of installation, because the place it is installed in is as relevant as the piece. Then see if it moves you in anyway. And if you make the trip to Kent, stop off in Somerset on the way!

  6. Cinnamon - You have a point that the place of installation could make a difference. Don't worry, plenty of people don't understand modern art, it's a bit of an acquired taste I think. I just love it though there are quite a few pieces that make me smirk with disbelief also. Like Carl André's pile of bricks.

    Do you not like Bridget Riley or Paul Klee or Piet Mondrian?

    Thanks for the invite. If I'm ever passing through Zummerzet....

  7. Cinnamon - Oh and if it makes you feel any better, I've tried for decades to 'get' classical music but most of it still leaves me cold!

  8. instaed of sitting on the fence i could sit on the horse

  9. Kylie - That would be tricky if it's 164 feet high. I think you'd need a crane.

    Actually I was thinking that it could be a tourist attraction and people could climb to the top of the horse for the view.

  10. Who owns the land?

    I wonder how long it will be before the graffiti artists deface it?

  11. In the sculpture park in downtown Seattle, there is a really really big sculpture of a typewriter eraser, the kind with the brush on one end.

    I guess i just don't understand art.

  12. As one who is often accused of living in her head, I have learnt that it is not always necessary to "get" something in order for it to evoke some feeling.

    One man's art is another's rubbish. That said, I also like horses and might prefer this one to the many billboards of inane adverts dotting the landscape these days...

  13. Is that an actual photo of the proposed installation, Nick?
    If so, it is rather beautiful and sad.
    Art is so subjective. And often beloved landmarks were derided in their time. Think Leaning Tower.

  14. Somewhere in Oklahoma is a giant whale statue, which is all the more absurd because the state is landlocked.

    I love horses, personally, and think it's nice of the sculptor to give it to his community, even if he IS doing it for the fame. Or notoriety.

    Speaking of whales, my verification word is beluga.

  15. Grannymar - Not sure who owns the land, but since it's next to the Eurostar rail line and Eurostar is one of the sponsors, I guess they're the owners. Indeed, graffiti would soon appear unless there was 24/7 security.

    Meno - That sounds like a similar concept, let's make a giant version of something. There's a famous building in Rome nicknamed The Typewriter because that's what it looks like.

  16. e - I'm with you there, I'd much prefer a giant horse to all those garish and idiotic adverts.

    www - It's not the actual horse but a very similar one. You're right about the Leaning Tower of Pisa, people do come to love things just for their sheer uniqueness.

    Heart - The giant whale certainly sounds a bit odd. I don't think Kent is his community though, it seems he lives in South London and was born in Essex.

    I adore beluga whales, they're so beautiful!

  17. Hilarious . .coming from the Country that has everything from the Big Pineapple to the Big Lobster and the Big Merino to name just three . . I'm all for it.

    Mind you it's head doesn't look at all like any horse I've ever seen! I wonder if long ago they objected to the drawing of a huge white horse in the limestone in the south of England. Perhaps the Egyptians were a little pissed off at having their humpys overshadowed by the Sphinx . . .164 feet sounds a little excessive. Put a wind farm in instead . . that'll give 'em something to complain about. And you're quite right, I have a soft spot for white horses but only in the padock and no taller than 16 hands. I think it ultimately preferable to things like the London Eye and that horrible building that looks like a cigar (designed by a woman . . . now tell me it's not phallic!) and at least it's not one of Damian Hurst's efforts!

  18. "I don't call looking out of my window at a horse's backside a thing of beauty."

    I wonder what he will say about my blog's mast!

  19. Baino - At least a wind farm would be doing something useful. Not that a work of art necessarily has to be useful. I rather like the London Eye, and the Belfast Eye too. And I like the Gherkin - it's only phallic if you see it that way.

    Ramana - Ah yes, the elephant's backside. I wouldn't fancy staring at that all day either.

  20. oh nooo, another thing to spoil the lovely view... although I am sure it will make for some great drunken tags on Facebook!!

    What an ass.

  21. Eternally - Exactly, it'll just spoil what presumably (I haven't seen a picture of the precise location) is quite a scenic spot. Why not something that would blend in more, like a miniature Stonehenge?

  22. I have to say I quite like the novelty of the idea, but then I won't have to open my curtains every morning and look at its great posterior!

    Perhaps it would be better somewhere more remote, as is the Angel of the North I think? Well not actually next to it, that would be silly!! (Not that I've seen the Angel in the 'flesh' either).

    There is a tradition of white horses on hill sides, but they are usually carved on.

    Still like the idea......

  23. Suburbia - Yes, Jenny likes the idea too. The Angel is actually close to a motorway and also some houses. I have a sneaking suspicion the locals (and others) will grow to like the horse once it's been there for a while. Funny how easily we come to defend what's on our patch, whatever its arguable merits.

  24. I think there are a few connections - apparently the locals would have been happy with a white Invicta horse... and in the past white chalk horses have been popular; this is like a 3D white chalk horse...?

  25. Scarlet - Interesting about the Invicta horse, which I see has been the symbol of Kent County Council for 120 years. So yes, there IS a Kent connection. An Invicta horse would be much more striking than the giant horse.