Christo's London Mastaba is extraordinary. At an impressive 20 metres tall, 30 metres wide and 40 metres long, Christo's monumental floating tomb consists of 7,506 barrels painted in red, white, blue and mauve, stacked horizontally within a steel framework on top of a platform anchored to the Serpentine lakebed. 'The colours will transform with the changes in the light and its reflection on the Serpentine Lake will be like an abstract painting', said Christo. In truth, it's better than a painting. Christo's Mastaba is a bold experiment reigning over the glinting waters of the Serpentine Lake with a majestic poise that takes your breath away.
Weighing approximately 500 tons, the impressive floating structure has two vertical sides, two slanted sides and a flat top. Christo explains that his trapezoidal prism takes its form and inspiration from an ancient mastaba – a type of ancient bench placed outside people's homes during the first urban civilisations of Mesopotamia. 'Any interpretation is legitimate - difficult or positive, all [interpretations] make you think. This is why we are human. We think', declares legendary artist-cum-environmentalist Christo during the Serpentine Galleries' press conference for the opening of his first major outdoor sculpture in the UK.
And interpret we do. Christo's London Mastaba is quite unfathomable. But that's the point. It has no function. 'It's there to provoke conversation and debate', says Michael Bloomberg of Bloomberg Philanthropies. 'I think it's fair to say that no two people will have the same exact reaction to it, and that is exactly how great art should be'.
Christo, The London Mastaba, Installation shot.
As with all of Christo's large-scale outdoor sculptures, the Mastaba has not been commissioned. The artist has not only self-funded the estimated £3.5 million project using the profits of his preparatory studies, but spent thousands renting out the Serpentine Lake to bolster the Serpentine's conservation efforts. Crucially, both the sculpture and the accompanying exhibition of his works at the Serpentine Galleries are free to the public.
Since fleeing a communist regime in Bulgaria, and arriving in Paris in 1958, Christo has made it his life's work to make public art for everyone. With no gallery, and no backing, his art is free from dictate. As a result, Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude have created some of the most dramatic outdoor sculpture and art installations in the world – many of them have been wrapped, draped or shrouded in billowing, colourful fabric. Think, the Reichstag shrouded in silvery fabric in Berlin, the Pont Neuf wrapped in fabric in Paris in 1985 and the 92,900 square meters of wrapped coastline in Australia.
Christo. Photo: Wolfgang Volz
But before the wrapping came barrel stacking. Chosen for their sculptural quality and their low cost, barrels have been a dominant feature in the artists' work since 1958. The intimate but beautifully curated Serpentine Galleries' exhibition offers visitors a fresh perspective on the history of their barrel works. We learn that the duo have stacked paint cans, wrapped barrels, and used them as the projected foundations of many of their unrealised projects.
In fact, over the past 50 years, the Bulgarian sculptor and his partner in crime have only realised 23 of their 47 proposed projects. Like many of Christo's outdoor sculptures, the Mastaba has been long in the making – it was first conceived in 1977 and has had many prospective homes, including the Netherlands, Lake Michigan and Texas, before settling on the Serpentine. But perseverance is what keeps Christo and his art alive.
Following the unveiling of the London Mastaba, Christo hopes to build a second, even greater, Mastaba in Abu Dhabi. More than five times the size of the Serpentine floating tomb, the Abu Dhabi Mastaba, consisting of 410,000 barrels, would be the biggest outdoor sculpture in the world if realised.
At 83, Christo shows no signs of slowing down. Vive la pluralité
What you need to know about the Serpentine Summer Season
|What||Meet the artist: Christo signing at TASCHEN Store London|
|Where||Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
19 Jun 18 – 09 Sep 18, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|