The London Mastaba: The Latest Marvel By Christo

The London Mastaba: The Latest Marvel By Christo

The London Mastaba

“Each artwork we make is like an expedition, something incredibly reinvigorating.”

The Bulgarian artist Christo, after working for more than two months, gifts London with his latest endeavor and his first large-scale public artwork in the UK, to be visited these days: The London Mastaba, an environmental installation composed of 7,506 colorful barrels floating on the Serpentine Lake, behind Kensington Palace. “For three months (until the 23rd of September), The London Mastaba will pertain to the environment of Hyde Park, in the center of London”, Christo affirms, clarifying that “the colors will transform depending upon the light shifts, and their reflections on the Serpentine Lake will resemble an abstract painting. It has been a pleasure to work with The Royal Parks for the realization of The London Mastaba, and with our friends from the Serpentine Gallery for the creation of an exhibition that tells the story of Jeanne-Claude and of my 60-year use of barrels in our work.” It seems like it was Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the director of the gallery, after the success of Floating Piers on the Iseo Lake, to summon the artist for one of his “interventions”, and Christo, during a stroll in the park, pointed right away at the portion of mirror where his mastaba would have risen.


The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi: Christo and Jeanne Claude’s dream

The London Mastaba is but a test for another very ambitious mastaba (eight times bigger). Christo dreams of building it in the desert of Abu Dhabi: a 150 mt. tall, 225 mt. deep, 30 mt. long sculpture, entirely made up of barrels full of oil, conceived together with his wife Jeanne-Claude since 1979. In the same year, they traveled to the Arab Emirates to choose the perfect location and the brightest colors for the barrels. In his book The Mastaba, Project for Abu Dhabi, 2012, the artist wrote that the work does not contain any political or economic reference, nor does it have anything to do with Egyptian pyramids; this concept was reaffirmed by Jeanne-Claude’s words: “We only do works of joy and beauty.” After several inspections, in 2007, the couple finds the location in the desert of Al Gharbia, near the oasis of Liwa, in an area 160 km away from Abu Dhabi. The artists gather the four best engineers in the world, the Stoccarda Schlaic Bergermann und Partner company to verify the feasibility of their project, the Mercedes-Benz and the BMW companies to create the colors of the barrels. The Guardian reports that a campus with an exhibition about the project, a hotel, and a restaurant will be built near the Mastaba.


The Packages

The names of Christo and Jeanne-Claude have almost always been associated with the word “package”, i.e. their consolidated artistic practices of wrapping symbolic buildings and natural elements in cellophane. It consists of a Dadaist procedure, inspired by The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (a sewing machine covered in a blanket, which hid its form and thus raised curiosity) realized by Man Ray, alluding to the mania of wrapping (revealing and concealing) that characterizes our civilization of consumption. It is the means to make the mystery that covers any object visible. In Christo’s words, “Many of our projects have the same urban planning dimensions as those of the construction of a highway or a bridge. In both cases, the procedures of authorization are similar; we face the same problems as those who build a highway, a skyscraper, or a bridge.”


Who is the author? What is the artwork?

“Many people find it difficult to read our projects. They do not concern sculpture or painting, our works are what they are: they are totally artworks, they exist only because Jeanne-Claude and I want so.”

When looking at Christo’s installations, it is hard to agree upon only one definition of the artwork; it is both the finalized work and the planning process that led to it (inspections, drawings, bureaucratic mediation, involvement of employees). Furthermore, these works are not destined to eternity, they are rather temporary, and do not change irreversibly the land where they intervene. Therefore, the artist creates ephemeral and temporary artworks, negating the Western dogma of the essential eternity of art. Both the Mastaba and the packages are happenings that engage thousands of people. The planning of the events involves hundreds of people: Christo accomplishes the earliest drawings, while Jeanne-Claude takes care of the organization, sponsors, political aspects, editors, and photographers. Should also the production of ropes, the press release of the event, and the authorization requests be considered part of the overall project? Who is then the author? The concept of the author is sacrified  for the sake of an entire community, like it used to happen in the choral construction of Medieval cathedrals or Egyptian pyramids.


The most demanding works

The most famous performance by Christo and Jeanne-Claude is certainly the packaging of the Reichstag, in Berlin, in 1995. For the occasion, the German parliament was wrapped in 100,000 squared meters of silver-plated propylene fabric and tied with 15 km of ropes. 70 specialized climbers and more than 120 workers have cooperated to the endeavor. This package needed more than twenty years of work (from 1971 until 1995), because of especially bureaucratic problems: a hard work that confered universal fame to the couple.

In 2016, the Floating Piers draws the attention of more than one million visitors, who gathered on the Iseo Lake to travel along the floating pier that, for 16 days (18th of June – 3rd of July 2016), has connected Sulzano to the Montisola and San Paolo islands.

By now universally recognized as homages rather than insults to the chosen locations, the photographs of the packages of Documenta ’68 in Kassel, of the Wrapped Roman Wall, and of the Porta Pinciana in Rome are offered for purchase by the curators of

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