After hearing the news that Hans Haacke’s masterpiece, ‘Gift Horse’, which features Scanlite’s bespoke ribbon ticker, was exhibiting at the New Museum in New York, we just had to acknowledge its greatness once again by reminiscing on where it all began…

The Fourth Plinth

In July 2013, Scanlite were approached by Paula Cooper Gallery for assistance in the proposal for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. The Fourth Plinth project invites artists to fill the vacant space in Trafalgar Square, London, UK. With the help from Scanlite, Hans Haacke was shortlisted for the public commission and the team had to submit their idea to win the space. 

The Fourth Plinth

The Fourth Plinth

The Idea

The idea was a monumental bronze skeleton that stands at around 15 feet tall, that depicts a horse in mid-stride, stripped down to it’s bones. Prominently adorning the horses front leg is an LED electronic ticker in the shape of a ribbon. LED lights, spanning an impressive 50 inches of digital screen loop to loop were embedded in the bow to continuously display the market prices of the United Kingdom’s leading stock exchange, completing the link between power, money and history. It was essential that the structure of the ticker tape was manufactured as thin as possible to ensure the display read as a ribbon and all technical connections must be built into the structure to enable them to pass through the bones and onto the top of the plinth. It was a necessity that the installation’s resolution was as high as possible, extremely durable and weatherproof. The statue is based on etchings by the British painter George Stubbs, whilst also referencing the statue of William IV which was originally planned to fill the vacancy of the Fourth Plinth in 1841 – which notably, never materialised due to lack of funding.

Hans Haacke's Gift Horse

Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse

The Scanlite Approach

By January 2014, Hans Haacke had won the public commission and the mayor’s office wanted to install the sculpture. They set an install date for early February 2015, so the planning process was in full swing. Scanlite were involved from the early stages of the installation, discussions between the teams began with how best to integrate the electronic ribbon with the skeletal horse sculpture.

Early on, it was made clear that the artistic vision of the project was critically important; in particular, the ribbon needed to be as thin as technically possible to not detract from the malnourished image. This proposed a challenge to fuse the necessary electronics into the design – multiple alternative solutions were suggested such as using a small diameter box for the live ticker feed and GSM interface. 

The agreed design by Scanlite was to instead hide almost all of the critical components inside of the actual plinth. This ensured the best possible finish which looked stunning on completion and fully realised the original artistic scope of the project.

Skeletal Horse with LED Electronic Ticker

Skeletal Horse with LED Electronic Ticker

From here, it was full steam ahead to get the equine bronze figure, ready to be unveiled on it’s Fourth Plinth. London’s pro-City Mayor, Boris Johnson unveiled the artwork, said to be a symbol of City excess and political austerity, in Trafalgar Square on the 5th March 2015. 

“There will be those who say that this undeniably underfed beast…  is a symbol of the excessive pursuit of austerity and the chancellor George-Osborne-diet approach to life. But I say absolutely not,” Johnson said.

“In those fabulous tubular structures you will see symbolised the vital infrastructure – the tube that must run beneath the surface of any great and beautiful city. The tubular structures that have received such fantastic investment thanks to our chancellor… and indeed playing a part in the greatest economic recovery this city has ever seen, and the driving force of the UK and indeed the European economy.”

Gift Horse Unveiling by London Mayor Boris Johnson

Gift Horse Unveiling by London Mayor, Boris Johnson

Munich

In 2017, the celebrated sculpture was moved to Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany for a four month exhibition. The live ticker that previously showed a live broadcast of the London Stock Exchange was substituted with the Frankfurt Stock Exchange for the duration of the showing. Haacke described the presentation as “a tribute to the City, the Wall Street of London.”

Chicago

After a monumental few months standing proud in Munich, the Art Institute of Chicago wanted to make sure their city was next. On October 5th 2018, after two years of planning, the very famous Gift Horse was publicly displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago, marking its first appearance in North America. 

“We felt it needed to come to Chicago,” says Lekha Hileman Waitoller, an exhibition manager in the museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. “It sparked our interest because it’s such a strong sculpture. There’s a lot to dig into in terms of its relationship to art, finance, and money, and also historical sculpture.”

New York

Fast forward to October 2019 and Haacke’s world renowned Gift Horse structure tied with the Scanlite LED ribbon, is now on view until January 26th 2020 at the New Museum in New York.

We are so proud to have been approached to take part in such monumental project and we hope the Gift Horse continues to excite tourists all over the globe.

Has this case study sparked inspiration in your mind that you may need some advice on? Or are you looking to invest in bespoke LED signage?  Speak to one of our experts today for more information. We can make the impossible, possible.