He’s back. Christo Yavachev, one of the most visionary artists on the contemporary scene and certainly one of the few who has always obeyed the phrase ars publica to the letter, has made his London debut by “appropriating” another lake. The London Mastaba is named after the ancient monumental Egyptian tombs and consists of a huge coloured structure made up of barrels, which will float on the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park until 23rd September. It is a scaled-down version of the great, historic project The Mastaba conceived by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude in 1977 for the Abu Dhabi desert in the United Arab Emirates that has still not seen the light of day.
The installation weighs 600 tonnes, is 20 metres high, 40 metres long and 30 metres wide. It is held in place by 32 anchors and consists of 7,506 barrels (the sides painted red and white and the flat parts blue, pink and mauve) stacked horizontally onto a floating platform that takes up 1% of the lake’s surface. It is an evocative work of art, which transforms the landscape into a dreamlike vision, with huge scenic impact therefore, but minimal environmental impact. The materials were carefully selected so as not to harm the local flora and fauna and, once dismantled, will be completely recycled.
Like all the projects Christo worked on with his wife, The London Mastaba defies all categorisation, marrying art, architecture, urbanistics, engineering and sculpture. It is visually stunning and joyful; the colours change with the light and their reflection in the Serpentine makes up a sort of abstract painting. It is absolutely free to the public, and also deliberately ephemeral. Like the best examples of Land Art, the work changes the visual perception and experience of its context, but contains no hidden messages or propaganda. As the artist says: “my things do not exist for anything except to be works of art: absolutely useless, totally irrational.” Ripe for personal discovery, therefore, conceived to give pleasure, and by no means stereotypical.
Alongside this site-specific work, the Serpentine Gallery will be holding a major retrospective of work by Christo and Jeanne-Claude from 20th June to 9th September, which will include sculptures, drawings, collages and photographs from their 60 years together. The barrel will again be a dominant feature, employed by the couple since 1958 for its low cost and great sculptural effect. It is an event not to be missed because it casts and original and unprecedented eye over the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and the organisers hope it will launch a challenge: where and with whom can art find resonance?
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958–2018
West Carriage Drive
London W2 3X
From 19th June to 9th September 2018