The ability of a plinth splattered with pigeon droppings in Trafalgar Square to provoke furious aesthetic debate surfaced again yesterday when an artist who sculpted his own blood and another who had himself shot in the name of art were shortlisted to fill the space.
Members of the public will be asked to choose between six finalists vying for the prize of creating the next sculpture to occupy the fourth plinth in London's famous square. The stone pedestal was originally mounted 160 years ago for a statue of William IV. But in recent years it has been a focus for controversy, as the base for a series of avant-garde sculptures, including a widely ridiculed transparent replica of the plinth itself by the Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread.
Organisers of the competition ensured the trend for contentious work would continue when they unveiled the shortlist yesterday for what has become one of Britain's most lucrative art competitions.
The winner will be paid a fee of £30,000, making the contest more lucrative than the Turner Prize, where the winner receives £20,000, or the Beck's Futures award, worth £25,000.
Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who is responsible for the project, said the object was to produce daring work in Trafalgar Square. Other sculptures include statues of Sir Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock, military heroes from the height of the British Empire. He said: "The aim is create interest, excitement and debate. It will do this by working with these leading artists to develop artworks that will stimulate debate, challenge perceptions of public art."
The Mayor is unlikely to go disappointed.
The finalists named yesterday included Marc Quinn, who is best known for Self, a frozen cast of his head made using nine pints of his blood, and Chris Burden, a 57-year-old American who once asked a friend to shoot him in arm for a performance piece. Also featured were Sarah Lucas, whose work revolves around sex, death and Englishness, and Sokari Douglas Camp, the Nigerian-born sculptor who works with welded steel.
Critics of the shortlist accused the judges of pandering to trendiness rather than artistic merit. David Lee, editor of the art magazine Jackdaw, said: "The idea of a space for new art is great but yet again we have a shortlist dominated by the wearisome avant-garde. Why not include a few conventional entries to give people a real choice?"
Each of the finalists, chosen after submitting sketches of their proposals, gets £2,000 to produce a scale model of their work to be put on display at the National Gallery in December and January. People will then be allowed to vote for their favourite piece.
Organisers said that the preferences of the public would be taken into account when the winner is announced next spring by the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, headed by Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, and including the broadcaster Jon Snow and the artist Bill Woodrow.
Unfortunately for those who want detailed debate now, organisers refused yesterday to release details of the shortlisted proposals, saying that it would interfere with the development of the works.
The winning model will be turned into a full-scale sculpture to be put on display for between a year and 18 months from the end of 2004.
THE SHORTLISTED ARTISTS
MARC QUINN, 39, Cambridge University. Produced portrait of Human Genome scientist using subject's DNA
THOMAS SCHUTTE, 49, Düsseldorf. Known for distorted works such as The Strangers, a life-size ceramic of immigrants
SARAH LUCAS, 41, Goldsmiths College, London. The one-time bad girl of Brit Art is fond of visual puns
SOKARI DOUGLAS CAMP, 45, California College of Art and Royal College of Art. Nigeria's leading sculptor.
STEFAN GEC, 45, Newcastle Polytechnic and the Slade, London. The son of a Ukrainian refugee focuses on migration and change
CHRIS BURDEN, 57, University of California. Known in the 1970s for performance art, but has recently turned to sculptureReuse content