Wallinger’s Horse Statue Stalled as Cost Soars to $15.8 Million

Mark Wallinger
Mark Wallinger with the model of a giant white horse he plans to put up as a monument in Ebbsfleet, near London. The horse's corporate patrons are now having difficulty raising the 10 million pounds ($15.8 million) needed to complete it. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Artist Mark Wallinger’s planned sculpture of a giant horse is in limbo as its corporate patrons strive to raise the 10 million pounds ($15.8 million) needed to make it -- five times more than originally estimated.

Wallinger aims to put up a 50-meter-high (164-ft) monument in former cement quarries at Ebbsfleet in Kent, near London. The white thoroughbred -- 33 times life size -- won a 2 million pound commission from the Ebbsfleet Landmark Project in February 2009, and got planning permission from local authorities in April of this year, its patrons said.

The equine statue would be about as tall as Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square, and visible to drivers and Eurostar train passengers. Yet it is now mired in money worries as the U.K. emerges from its deepest recession on record.

“Obviously, it’s a tough time at the moment,” Wallinger said in an interview. “But we’re coming out of recession. I’m confident we’ll find the money and get on with it.”

Wallinger said the initial budget was “never a particularly realistic figure,” because it came before any artist bids. He said the horse was, in size and complexity, “an enormous thing.”

“You can’t hurry along anything like this: It’ll take as long as it takes,” said Wallinger, 51, winner of the 2007 Turner Prize, the U.K.’s top contemporary-art award.

Peter Frackiewicz, project director at developers Land Securities Group Plc -- one of the horse’s three corporate patrons -- said it was now a question of money.

“We are still trying to find funding to move the project forward,” he said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Horse’s Hurdles

Ben Ruse, the spokesman for the Ebbsfleet Landmark Project, confirmed the financing hurdles.

“We’ve not had the large sums we need so that we would feel safe taking the project forward very significantly,” Ruse said. “We’re still awaiting that.”

The patrons have five years to act, he said, after which planning permission runs out, and would need to be re-applied for.

Wallinger in 2004 dressed as a bear and roamed around a Berlin museum for 10 nights, using an animal symbolizing Germany to ponder the country’s past and present. Two years later, he replicated some 600 banners and placards put up by Iraq War protester Brian Haw outside the U.K. parliament.

Would a postponement hurt his reputation? “I didn’t propose it for my reputation,” Wallinger replied, “so I’m not particularly worried.”

Channel Tunnel

The Ebbsfleet Landmark Project sculpture competition was initiated in May 2007 by three companies -- Land Securities; London & Continental Railways Ltd.; and Eurostar Group Ltd., which runs the high-speed Channel Tunnel rail link.

Their hope was to replicate the success of Angel of the North, a giant statue by Antony Gormley in Gateshead, northern England that is now the region’s symbol.

The three partners together put in 1 million pounds to get the project started. That money has been mostly spent now, leaving just enough to get the fundraising going, Ruse said.

In May 2008, journalists and bidding artists boarded the Eurostar high-speed train for Ebbsfleet -- site of a new Eurostar rail stop, where maquettes of the five proposals were shown at a buffet lunch. The other artist nominees were Rachel Whiteread, Daniel Buren, Richard Deacon and Christopher Le Brun.

In an interview on the train back that same day, Wallinger said he found horses “extraordinarily beautiful” and recalled that a rearing white horse was the symbol of Kent.

All five maquettes were then viewed by tens of thousands of people in a Kent shopping mall and on the Internet. Wallinger’s white horse won the most votes, though he was selected separately by a jury.

“It’s been a tough project,” said Mark Davy, director of FutureCity, who is on the landmark board and runs the program’s cultural side. “You could quite easily have shut down a number of times.”

“There’s still a willingness on the part of the project team to make it work,” he said.

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