On Monday morning, I was one of those who braved Boris Johnson’s speech on Trafalgar Square at the opening of Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle: the new Fourth Plinth project. Boris was hilarious. First because he teased us expertly with a joke about Nelson succeeding at Trafalgar “because he had bottle”. And second because, by prattling on about Britain’s mastery of the seas, he made clear that he knew nothing about Shonibare, nothing about contemporary art, nothing about the Fourth Plinth and nothing about modern Britain.
Shonibare’s sculpture is brilliant. The giant model of Nelson’s Victory slipped miraculously into a bottle subverts the usual mood of public sculpture and makes the surrounding celebration of war feel mightily silly and childish.
Still, if you are going to mock everything around you, perhaps it is best if the enemy does not notice.