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The worst fourth plinth yet?

Overblown and militaristic, this temporary memorial in Trafalgar Square represents everything the Few were fighting against

It seemed inappropriate last week, with millions remembering the wars of the twentieth century, to say this. But I'm not sure I can hold off any longer. The statue of Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park currently occupying the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is an inane and empty image that has no claims on anyone's attention.

I seem to be fated to wade into the silly world of the plinth. Every time I think I'm out, it pulls me back in. By some bizarre chance, I happened to witness part of the unveiling ceremony of this sculpture a couple of weeks ago. A crowd stood in darkening weather, watching a giant screen while the statue towered above them wrapped in a silk shroud. Covered up like that, it resembled something from a painting by Giorgio de Chirico.

It was more interesting than the unveiled version, which is now on view for all to ignore. It proves size isn't everything. The problem of the plinth's scale has been solved by inflating the statue so what stands there to commemorate the Battle of Britain is a colossus. It is singularly inappropriate because the size of the figure, combined with its military nature, evokes not the Few, but everything they were battling against. It's a fascist icon up there, brooding over the heart of London.

Maybe it's unfair to interpret something so hackneyed and drab as art. At least this lamentable sculpture puts the idiocy of the know-nothing artistic conservatives into full public view. You may think much of contemporary art is shallow; you may wish for something deeper, more emotional, more imaginative. But aesthetic regression is not the answer. The simplistic call for figurative art is just lazy-minded. Modern art was called into being by modern life, and as we hurtle into the future there is no sign of its pertinence diminishing.

Britain's artistic conversation remains depressingly slight, endlessly fixated on a false confrontation of ancients and moderns, "proper" and "conceptual" art. No meaningful art of our time fits easily into those polarities. Nothing is served by reaffirming them. This statue is a monument to saloon-bar fools. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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