Mark Hudson asks what Mark Wallinger’s gigantic Horse says about the success of British art:
While Wallinger was asked by Kent County Council to adopt the rearing horse image that is Kent’s emblem, he refused. His image is resolutely unheroic. Its pathos stems from the way an image that is intrinsically small has been blown up into a vast, heroic scale – not so much a dip from the sublime to the ridiculous as an ironic lift from the ridiculous to the sublime that feels peculiarly English. Wallinger has tried to set the work in context with local historical echoes – the fact that Ebbsfleet lies at the end of the horse-rearing downland county, that the Anglo-Saxon heroes Hengist and Horsa (who gave his name to the horse) arrived here. But he actually gives us a more homely sense of the local: the downbeat Middle English mentality that responds to every calamity by putting the kettle on, realised on a bombastic scale.
Yet at the same time “Horse” is a manifestation of the nonchalant cool of the YBA generation – the group of artists including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin – of which Wallinger is very much part. And the fact that the British people have taken this work to their hearts to the extent that it already feels an inalienable part of the landscape is a testament to the ever-increasing acceptance of contemporary art in this country. [ . . . ]
Where even 10 years ago Wallinger’s horse would have been met with a media rumpus of the kind that used to greet every new Turner Prize – what does it mean? what’s it for? – the man in the street now nods with approval at Wallinger’s chutzpah. Where once modern art was an in-joke shared only by a tiny cognoscenti, now we’re all in on it.
This upsurge in interest in art, fuelled by the publicity surrounding Hirst’s YBA generation and the arrival of Tate Modern, has led to a golden age of public art. While there’s barely an artist in the country who could create a convincing traditional statue – and the days when Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s Modernist sculptures were wheeled out to lend a contemporary edge feel as remote as the Renaissance – what we have now is art that is pure entertainment. An installation such as Carsten Holler’s steel slides, which swept recently through the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, provided a great afternoon out with the kids and was understood by its audience as first and foremost, well, fun. That such works are hardly challenging is beside the point. We may be witnessing a change in art’s very nature, from an aesthetic, spiritual and intellectual function to a principally social one.
(A computer animation of what Horse will look like from the motorway after the jump.)
Mark Wallinger’s White Horse Is a Winner (Telegraph)