In London’s Hyde Park, a monumental form floating on the Serpentine Lake is a feat of engineering and a spectacle many years in the making. Titled The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), it is a temporary installation by the conceptual and environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Christo, with his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, is known for large and very complex public works that take years, and even decades, to be realized. Since Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009, Christo has continued on with a number of projects that the pair first conceived of decades ago.
The installation in Serpentine Lake is 20 meters high, 30 meters wide, and 40 meters long, with two vertical sides, two sides at 60-degree angles, and a flat top. Its proportions are from the mastaba – a form used by ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and later for early pharaohs’ tombs in Egypt.
The London Mastaba is comprised of oil barrels – 7,506 of them – with a mosaic of red, blue, and mauve on the vertical sides, and red with white stripes on the angled sides. It weighs 600 tonnes and is supported by a steel frame that floats on a massive platform of polyethylene cubes.
It is the first outdoor public work by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the UK, and at the nearby Serpentine Gallery, a simultaneous exhibition of sculptures, drawings, collages, and photographs is their first in a UK museum since 1979. The exhibition surveys Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works since 1958 that have featured barrels, including studies for another mastaba sculpture that was first conceived in 1977.
Planned for a site in the UAE, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s other mastaba will be a permanent installation comprised of 410,000 barrels stacked 150 meters high. Negotiations are ongoing after some 40 years, but Christo optimistically considers the project to be on track. If the Abu Dhabi mastaba is realized, the monumental work in London may be viewed as a study in some future exhibition.
As with all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, the construction, maintenance, and removal of The London Mastaba is funded through the sale of Christo’s original works of art. Christo asserts that the work “will be absolutely free to the public—no tickets, no reservations and no owners. It will belong to everyone until it’s gone.”
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958–2018 will be on view through September 9 at the Serpentine Gallery, and The London Mastaba will float on the Serpentine Lake until September 23, 2018.
“I have no reason to justify myself as an artist. I cannot explain my art. Everything I do professionally is irrational and useless…. I make things that have no function – except maybe to make pleasure.”