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Art in public spaces

In Trafalgar Square, Much Ado About Statuary

The new statue was bound to make a vivid impression in Trafalgar Square, a place as redolent of past military glory as any in London. For one thing, it depicts someone who is not male, not wearing a uniform and not dead.

But there's more. The statue, 11 feet 7 inches of snow-white Carrara marble, shows the naked, eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant figure of 40-year-old Alison Lapper, a single mother who was born with shortened legs and no arms. Ms. Lapper is a friend of the sculptor, Marc Quinn, who has said that Nelson's Column, the focal point of Trafalgar Square, is "the epitome of a phallic male moment" and that he thought "the square needed some femininity."

But "Alison Lapper Pregnant" - juxtaposed as it is with the majestic figures of a king, two generals and the naval hero Lord Nelson - has fueled a sharp discussion here about art, the purpose of public monuments, and the appropriateness of displaying such a piece in such a singular public space.

It was commissioned early last year by a government-appointed panel that selects a rotating series of works for the long-empty plinth at the northwest corner of the square, a Mecca for tourists and art lovers next to the National Gallery. It was installed last month and is to be replaced in 2007 by Thomas Schutte's "Hotel for the Birds."

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