Christo's London Mastaba on the Serpentine

On the 18th of June, The London Mastaba emerged onto the Serpentine Lake. The Mastaba is another triumph of world-renowned artist Christo. His wife Jeanne-Claude and he were born on the same day in 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria and Casablanca, Morocco respectively. Famed for creating both impressively large as well as impressively intrusive structures that invade the public space, they started collaborating creatively in 1961, until Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009. Together they previously wrapped Berlin’s Reichstag (1871-95), Italy’s Floating Piers (2014-16) and even one million square feet of Sydney’s Coast (1968-69). However, this public project is the first of Christo’s to invade London.

The sculpture consists of 7,506 stacked barrels in a trapezium shape, or ‘Mastaba’, an Ancient Egyptian Tomb with a flat roof meaning “eternal house” in Ancient Egyptian. Weighing a total of 600 tonnes, it’s a wonder the thing floats! Christo and Jeanne-Claude first began working with barrels in 1958, and since continued their extensive affinity with the objects, using the metal cans as a medium in themselves for their sculptures. Some of their sizeable barrel archive is being displayed in the Serpentine Galleries all summer, working simultaneously alongside The London Mastaba. The exhibition includes the lesser-known body of work that supports their much larger public spectacles such as the sketches and preparatory studies, all of which are essential to pull off such grandiose projects. In essence, the exhibition provides The Mastaba with a context; without Christo’s sketches, preliminary Barrel compositions and small-scale wrappings, projects like The Mastaba would not be possible in such 65-foot magnitude. You can expect to see over 80 sculptures, drawings, collages, photographs and exceptionally cute small-scale models that span over 6 decades of producing art.

Using money from selling works such as the ones in the exhibition, Christo entirely funded the £3 million making of The London Mastaba, accenting the spirit of the public space and the ever free-to-visit Serpentine Galleries. This really is art for the masses. No public money has been used and Christo does not accept sponsorship. Simultaneously, the proposal for this temporary sculpture included a guarantee of no ecological damage to the lake or its surroundings. In fact, the only impediment it provides is the visual aspect; measuring out to be 20m in height, the glaring white, blue and mauve painted barrels are hard to miss amongst the greenery of Hyde Park’s tranquil surroundings. It provides quite the change from your average grey/ blue London Architecture.

Submerge yourself in sun in Hyde Park this summer, stare up at The London Mastaba, here until September 23rd, or take a break from your sweltering strolls in the coolness of Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018 at the Serpentine Galleries, open until the 9th of September.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park 2016 - 2018  © Christo  Photo: Wolfgang Volz, Courtesy of The Serpentine Galleries.
The 600 tonne Mastaba floating on Serpentine Lake.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park 2016 - 2018  © Christo  Photo: Wolfgang Volz, Courtesy of The Serpentine Galleries.
A bird's eye view of The Mastaba, which reaches an imposing height of 20 metres.

Christo, 303 barrels Construction (Project for Lake Michigan – 1968),  Collage, 1967 47.6 x 54.6 cm. Wax crayon, enamel paint and photostat on card  Courtesy of the artist Photo: André Grossmann  © 1967 Christo, Courtesy of The Serpentine Galleries.

Christo, 303 barrels Construction (Project for Lake Michigan – 1968), Collage, 1967 47.6 x 54.6 cm.