Ever since Mark Wallinger's sculpture of Jesus Christ clad in a loincloth and crown of thorns was installed on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth, its revolving gallery of artworks has roused passions and stirred debate.
Yesterday, a humorous new mood seemed to have gripped the six artists shortlisted to have their work showcased in London's most visible gallery.
Some may have been left wondering how a model of a giant Battenberg or a pipe-organ-cum-ATM-machine could add to national debate, but they need not have worried.
It was clear that contenders for the plinth had, 150 years after it was built, discovered a more mischevious way to cock a snook at the establishment.
As a sculpture of a bright blue cockerel and another of a kitchy gold figure on a rocking horse vied with the cake and the cashpoint for the prestigious commission, even the judges saw the healthy helping of irreverent wit in the offerings. Ekow Eshun, chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, said the humour was "no bad thing", adding: "We're trying to find works that can delight and surprise."
Katharina Fritsch, who was shortlisted for Hahn/Cock, an aquamarine cockerel sculpture, said the submission was "a play on the double meaning of the word". "We have admirals and generals there, and I wanted to look at the idea of an ironic male presence in Trafalgar Square," she said.
Brian Griffiths, said Battenberg – the cake created to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter – captured a "particular type of British humour".
Elmgreen and Dragset, who submitted a brass boy sitting astride a rocking horse, added that "the jury must have had a jolly good time".
The critic's view
Sikandar, by Hew Locke
Locke manages to provoke a mixture of joy and discomfort in his fetishistic sculptures which feature sorts of glittery, trashy junk inspired by carnival parades, Rococo and religious icons. His sculpture's relationship to Afghanistan, and war there past and present, makes monumental triumphalism appear alien and strange.
It's Never Too Late And You Can't Go Back, by Mariele Neudecker
German artist Neudecker has a wonderful handle on sculptural landscapes. Her mountainous plain made from part of a map of Britain might seem like a neat idea, but, for all the mountainous peaks in it, this proposal feels strangely flat.
Powerless Structures, by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset
Powerless Structures are a series of monuments to powerlessness – broken clocks, stairs impossible to climb or doors that are chained together so that you can't open one without closing the other. Here a golden boy rides on a rocking horse – a monument to the loveliest kind of powerlessness.
Hahn/Cock, by Katharina Fritsch
Fritsch often creates large sculptures of animals that look fuzzily soft but also vaguely nightmarish. Green elephants and groups of conspiratorial mice appear larger or brighter than life, alluding to their power in religious iconography or folk tales. This giant cock in punchy Yves Klein blue is possibly also a playful ridiculing of macho monuments – like a certain giant column a few metres away.
Untitled, by Jennifer Alloro and Guillermo Calzadilla
There is often an interactive element to this pair's work, and here the pipe organ plays sounds relating to the instructions given to the working ATM below. This feels like too much of a simple statement – a stab at our daily worship of market capital.
Battenburg, by Brian Griffiths
Griffiths's large bricky Battenberg cake fits right in with the artist's biscuit-tin, junk-shop aesthetic. It's a monument to the humble, the rundown and the slightly lumpy, which is the flip-side of the kind of grand Victorian monuments and buildings that have left their mark on the City of London.
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