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FIRST LOOK

Christo’s first major outdoor sculpture in the UK opens in Hyde Park

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The London Mastaba is a huge, vivid – if slightly dead-feeling – object floating in the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, writes Rob Wilson

The 20m-high temporary sculpture consists of 7,506 horizontally stacked barrels on a floating platform. Its installation coincides with a new exhibition of Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s work at the Serpentine Galleries. Unusually for a public sculpture, The London Mastaba has been entirely funded by the artist, through the sale of other works of art. 

The sculpture, weighing 600 tonnes, is the first major outdoor public work by the 83-year-old in the UK, who with Jeanne-Claude is most celebrated for works such as Wrapped Coast (1968–9) in Sydney and Wrapped Reichstag (1971–95) in Berlin – the latter consisting of draping the then empty German Parliament in silver fabric. 

This work’s name and shape is based on that of an Ancient Egyptian tomb – the mastaba being a rectangular-based, truncated variant of a pyramid. As an object The London Mastaba is monumental but also – perhaps appropriately – slightly dead in feeling despite its vivid colouring: an artificial cut-out against the park’s horizon. With no suggestive wrapping here to help cloak or add mystery to its meaning, the reflections in the lake are what lend it movement and animation.  

The london mastaba the london mastaba, serpentine lake, hyde park, 2016 18 (4)

The london mastaba the london mastaba, serpentine lake, hyde park, 2016 18 (4)

The sculpture’s floating platform – 20 metres high by 30 metres wide by 40 metres long – is made of interlocking high-density polyethylene (HDPE) cubes, held in place with 32 6-tonne anchors. Connected to this above is a substructure for the barrels that consists of scaffolding and a steel frame. The stacked barrels themselves are standard 55 gallon ones, fabricated and painted for the sculpture in combinations of red, white, blue and mauve.

The construction of the sculpture took over two and a half months and involved a team that included JK Basel, Deep Dive Systems, Coventry Scaffolding and engineer Schlaich Bergermann Partners. Despite its exaggeratedly artificial appearance, all the construction materials used have been certified to have a low environmental impact on the ecosystem of the lake, and will be recycled in the UK following the project.

The london mastaba the london mastaba, serpentine lake, hyde park, 2016 18 (1)

The london mastaba the london mastaba, serpentine lake, hyde park, 2016 18 (1)

Artist’s view

For three months, The London Mastaba will be a part of Hyde Park’s environment in the centre of London. The colours will transform with the changes in the light and its reflection on the Serpentine Lake will be like an abstract painting. It has been a pleasure to work with the Royal Parks to realise The London Mastaba and with our friends at the Serpentine Galleries to create an exhibition showing Jeanne-Claude’s and my 60-year history of using barrels in our work.

Christo

The london mastaba the mastaba (project for london, hyde park, serpentine lake) (2)

The london mastaba the mastaba (project for london, hyde park, serpentine lake) (2)

The London Mastaba will be on view until 23 September. The exhibition ’Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018’ continues until 9 September. Both The London Mastaba and the exhibition are free to view.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I think I'm more impressed by the balancing trick being performed by the guys on the right of the photo 3/13........

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  • Great stuff, there should be more and why aren't RIBA engaging with UK sculptors and by that I mean not the same constant names either?

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