Made of 7,506 horizontal painted oil barrels atop a buoyant platform at a height of 20 metres, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, 2016-18 is Christo’s latest public installation and first major public work in the UK. While having risen to attention in the 1980s for guerilla wrappings of objects, this work plays into Christo’s history of using barrels to create artworks. On view until 23 September from its lake-anchored location, the work’s unique shape is derived from the trapezoid formations of mastaba, a tenet of Mesopotamian architecture, painted in vivid colours to interact with the changeable city sky and the natural hues of the park.
Christo raised GBP3 million by selling his own works in order to self-fund the independent project, which took two years to come to fruition. The desire to independently financially back his projects follows through on his, along with late wife Jeanne-Claude’s, shared desire to make art free, partially stemming from his upbringing in repressive Stalinist Bulgaria. It also speaks to a longstanding interest that the couple had in mastaba, the Arab word used to describe 2:3:4 proportioned Egyptian tomb seats placed outside homes in Mesopotamia, as well as the original 1979-desire to manifest the piece in Abu Dhabi. The London Mastaba is a smaller-scale version of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s intent to build an Abu Dhabi Mastaba, which would mark the world’s largest public piece. Christo has stated that he intends to finish the work.
While it has been widely noted that Christo and Jean-Claude maintained independence from galleries, government grants or patrons throughout their career, which began in 1961 after they met in Paris, in conjunction with the public work, Serpentine Galleries is showing Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018, featuring works by of Christo and Jeanne-Claude spanning 60 years. It runs through 9 September.