Artists hailing from England, Scotland, the United States, Cuba and Germany will battle it out to have their ideas selected as the next work to stand on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth.
The winning concept from the six new proposals will take its place in Britain's "premier public art spot" after Nelson's Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare is taken down at the end of 2011.
The shortlisted artists were announced as Allora & Calzadilla, Elmgreen & Dragset, Katharina Fritsch, Brian Griffiths, Hew Locke and Mariele Neudecker.
The fourth plinth artworks, a rolling programme of new commissions, have developed a reputation for causing a stir in the tourist hotspot.
They have included Marc Quinn's towering marble sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant and Antony Gormley's One & Other.
Gormley's idea handed members of the public the chance to do as they wished for an hour on the plinth last year - many deciding to use their allocated time to strip off.
The latest proposals will be revealed when models are shown in an exhibition in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which overlooks the bustling central London square, next month.
The selected work will be announced by Mayor of London Boris Johnson early next year.
Mr Johnson said: "It's that time again, when the art world braces itself for a spurt of bold ideas for what is surely the premier public art spot in Britain.
"This is the chance for today's most exciting artists to create something in one of the most historic and traditional settings imaginable.
"We can only guess what they will come up with - but I have no doubt it will get everyone talking."
Griffiths, who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, studied at Goldsmiths College and produces sculptural works, 3D collages and installations which are often overtly theatrical. He is a fine art lecturer in London.
Edinburgh-born Locke has lived in Guyana and returned to the UK to study a BA in fine art at Falmouth and an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art.
He lives and works in London and his work is included in the collections of the Tate Gallery, the Arts Council, the V&A and the British Museum.
Jennifer Allora is from Philadelphia in the US, and Guillermo Calzadilla was born in 1971 in Havana, Cuba.
They live and work in San Juan, Puerto Rico and their work includes sculpture, photography, performance, sound and video.
They recently created a series of works exploring links between militarism and sound.
Based in London and Berlin, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have worked together since the mid-1990s.
Their work explores contemporary living and its reflection in everyday designs and urban landscapes.
Born in Essen, Germany, Fritsch lives in Dusseldorf, working with sculpture playing on the familiar and the surreal.
Bristol-based Neudecker uses a range of media including sculpture, installation, film and photography.
She was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, and is inspired by the relationships between humans and landscape.
Ekow Eshun, chairman of the fourth plinth commissioning group, said: "The fourth plinth programme has become one of the most high-profile public art commissions in the UK and has established an international reputation.
"The commissioning group is excited by this strong shortlist, which represents leading artists from different nations.
"We look forward to revealing their proposals for the plinth to the public next month."
Members of the commissioning group include artist Grayson Perry and broadcaster Jon Snow.
Moira Sinclair, of Arts Council England, said: "The fourth plinth commissions always generate excitement and debate about contemporary art - and this shortlist is set to continue this tradition as our partnership with the Mayor's Office enters its ninth year."