It was one of the most talked about exhibitions at London’s Tate Britain last year. Fiona Banner’s inspired Harrier and Jaguar, which featured two retired fighter planes in the incongruous setting of the Duveen Galleries, captivated the modern art loving audience between June 2010 and January 2011. But aviation enthusiasts in particular will be shocked to learn that the decommissioned jets may have been sold for scrap.
Far from becoming sought-after works of art, like Damien Hirst’s sheep or Tracey Emin’s bed, the Harrier and Jaguar aircraft, which flew combat sorties over Bosnia and Iraq, appear to have found their way to a scrap metal merchant in Harrow, London. While it’s unclear whether these are the same planes, the evidence is persuasive.
The Jaguar’s centre section is stripped of paint and remains highly polished despite currently sitting on the back of a trailer. The forward fuselage of the Sea Harrier, on the other hand, sports the same unconventiional paint scheme on its nose as the jet at Tate Britain, resembling a bird’s bill rather than the straight edge normally associated with aircraft radomes. The aircraft’s fuselage also has the graphic feather markings seen on the Tate Harrier, strong evidence that this is the same jet.
According to Fiona Banner, Harrier and Jaguar are “ambiguous objects implying both captured beast and fallen trophy”. While the Sea Harrier was transformed into a “captive bird”, with feathered markings on its surface similar to the Harrier Hawk, the Jaguar lay belly-up on the floor with posture suggestive of a submissive animal. Now that the exhibition is over, many will be sorry to find that the aircraft may not have been saved. The Harrier, after all, was substantially rebuilt for the exhibition after it crashed in 2000.