British art critic Martin Gayford joins the chorus of those uninspired by Antony Gormley’s display of the British public to the nation:
Witless? Pointless? It was both of those. What can you expect if you ask members of the public selected by chance to stand in a prominent spot and be entertaining? The result has all the charm of those knobbly-knees competitions that used to be put on at holiday camps, without the professional pizzazz. As a “living portrait of the U.K.,” it’s depressing.
I may have been unlucky with the participants I’ve seen and with the samples I’ve watched on the “One & Other” Web site. (I’ve just been watching a young woman take photographs of herself, do a little dance, then chat on her mobile phone). Maybe I just missed the good acts, though I doubt it. […] I can understand and sympathize with the thinking that went into this. The result, though, is tawdry.
What’s curious about the whole project is that Gormley has built a powerful intellectual armature around the event. The fact that his randomly chosen cross section of British citizens fails to excite spectators is both a commentary on the nature of the heroic setting and statues that surround them and upon the citizenry itself. (So many of the plinthers seem to get up there and start making cell phone calls suggesting a fair bit of fear and insecurity. But even that makes another compelling point about 21st century society and the way individuals behave in public.)
What’s interesting about the Plinth is that though the spot is a powerful soapbox, none of the random performers have been able to find a subject that resonates or makes an impact. Gormley’s project is a social and political Britain’s Got Talent waiting for its Susan Boyle.