The London Mastaba was Christo’s first outdoor, public work in the UK. The sculpture and exhibition offered an unprecedented opportunity for visitors to experience Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work.
Born on the same day in 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria and Casablanca, Morocco respectively, Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009, began their collaboration in 1961 and their many celebrated public projects include Wrapped Coast, Sydney, Australia (1968-69), Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin (1971-1995); The Gates, Central Park, New York City (1979-2005); and more recently The Floating Piers on Italy’s Lake Iseo (2014-2016).
Many years in the planning, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s outdoor projects generate an extensive archive of preparatory material detailing the organisation and execution of these projects, and those not yet realised. The Serpentine worked closely with Christo to develop this exhibition of sculptures, drawings, collages, scale-models and photographs, which spanned six decades. It was the Serpentine’s second collaboration with the artist, following Christo’s participation in the 2016 Miracle Marathon.
Since 1958, barrels have been a dominant feature of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s sculptures and installations, which they have erected at varying scales internationally. The exhibition offered new perspectives on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s career to the large-scale, wrapped and fabric-based works for which they are best known. It also traced the origins of this strand of practice, which began with wrapped paint cans and barrels and the artists’ first temporary public installation in Cologne Harbour in 1961.
The Serpentine exhibition was timed to coincide with Christo’s temporary sculpture nearby, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park 2016 - 2018. The sculpture took inspiration from mastabas – benches with two vertical sides, two slanted sides and a flat top – which originated with the first ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia. The Serpentine show provided a rich context for this new work, for unrealised barrel projects at sites including the Suez Canal (1967) and MoMA, New York (1968), and plans for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s most ambitious sculpture yet in the Middle East, which was first conceived in 1977.
A richly-illustrated catalogue by Taschen, titled Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and the Mastaba 1958-2018, was published to accompany the exhibition and The London Mastaba, with contributions from Christo, Serpentine Galleries Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist, Paul Goldberger and Adam Blackbourn, and photographs by Wolfgang Volz.
The exhibition was also accompanied by a digital Mobile Tour supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park 2016 - 2018
Christo’s first large-scale public sculpture in the UK floated on The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park from 18 June to 23 September. Measuring 20m in height by 30m and 40m, the sculpture consists of 7,506 horizontally stacked barrels, specifically fabricated and painted in shades of red, white, blue and mauve. The proposal for the temporary sculpture included an ecological survey to ensure no damage to the lake or its surroundings. The sculpture was paid for entirely by the artist and also presented a unique opportunity for enhancements to the conservation area and associated wildlife. As with all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, The London Mastaba was funded through the sale of Christo’s original works of art. No public money was used and Christo does not accept sponsorship.