Yesterday I went to the press launch of the British Museum’s annual review. It was held in the quite beautiful gallery in the new Sir Joseph Hotung Centre, where Sir Percival David’s collection of Chinese ceramics seems to generate its own light. The event’s main point of interest was the BM’s proposed North West Development, which will be decided upon by the local planning committee before the end of the month. Astonishingly (compare the situation at Tate Modern, where fundraising difficulties may mean missing its 2012 Olympics target for its extension), already two-thirds of the BM’s required £135m are in place.
From there I walked to Sir John Soane’s Museum, which is exhibiting a selection of Father Mackey’s photos of Rome c 1890–1901, and then on to Trafalgar Square, my first visit since One & Other began. The square spreads out like a peninsula into a sea of near-motionless traffic, and though its statues all face south to Whitehall and parliament, its public face north to the National Gallery, thanks to the pedestrianisation of that bit of road that once made Trafalgar an island. NG director Nicholas Penny’s complaint last week about the noisy neighbours who’d be kept at bay if only the road could be opened again, was a bit of a shock (how could he ever think that?), but may help to explain why the galleries feel left behind in London’s contemporary art world.
So, the square was full of activity – herded groups of school children, a large rubber-looking dinosaur towed by a Land Rover, the usual. In the south-west corner is what looks like a pile of green containers, behind which lurk a pair of yellow JCB fork-lifts in case the lions (or dinosaur) get our of hand. Fountain spray drifts in the breeze. If you look closely, you can see a small gathering up in the north-west corner, where someone in an ambulance outfit is waving his arms about.
And that’s how it is. Following One & Other from a distance, through the press and the web, it’s easy to forget that the fourth plinth is… one of four, that there are other things going on in Trafalgar Square, and most of those are bigger, busier or noisier. And actually that’s good, Gormley’s plinth becomes a work, rather than a series of disconnected personal moments. Back home I watched a man on the plinth read his poetry. He seemed to think his radio mike was feeding a loud speaker, but apart from a few people very close by, only those of us watching on the website could hear him. From home, this now common phenomenon seemed wrong, didn’t plinthers get it? Noone can hear you! But in the square it was right, the words were not what mattered, just the person, being there.