The plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square was intended to be occupied by an equestrian statue of William IV. But the work was never commissioned because of a lack of funds. That is unfortunate for William; but his loss has been our gain.
Five years ago the London Mayor Ken Livingstone backed the proposal for the empty plinth to be used as an ever-changing artwork display. The results have been a great success. The space has given us critically-acclaimed works such as Mark Wallinger's Ecce Homo and Marc Quinn's astonishing Alison Lapper Pregnant.
The fact that these works stand in one of Britain's busiest squares and have a temporary tenancy has had a welcome effect on the popular reception to them. Those who would normally scoff at contemporary art have been tempted to swing by Trafalgar Square and evaluate the works in the flesh. A great many have come away surprised and impressed.
Six new proposals for the plinth were unveiled at the National Gallery yesterday. They show that contemporary artists are beginning to think deeply and imaginatively about how the space might be used. Of the new crop of ideas, Antony Gormley's proposal to get members of the public to stand on the plinth for an hour each, Tracey Emin's meerkats and Anish Kapoor's ambitious mirror sculpture are especially interesting.
But the other great virtue of this project is that it is not dominated by critics and curators. The public gets a strong say about which of the proposals should be chosen, with the winner announced in May. This is public sculpture in the truest sense of the word.