Christo, The Mastaba

The Colours of Christo

This summer, The Serpentine in Hyde Park is playing host to an extraordinary sculptural event. The London Mastaba is the latest public artwork by the artist Christo, known for creating huge sculptures in fabric in both architectural and natural sites around the world. Working with his wife, the late Jeanne-Claude, his body of work is both ephemeral and epic, creating artworks that are magical as well as being mind-boggling feats of engineering.


Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, 2016-18, Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2018 Christo

Made up of 7,506 barrels stacked horizontally on a floating platform, The London Mastaba coincides with the Serpentine Galleries’ retrospective of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work. The exhibition reveals a fascinating insight into the vision and process behind many of the couple’s large-scale sculptures, with original sketches and plans for pieces such as Surrounded Islands and the famous Wrapped Reichstag on show.

The Mastaba

Christo, The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), Collage 2017, 14 x 11″ (35.5 x 28 cm), Photography by Wolfgang Volz Photo: André Grossmann, © 2017 Christo



Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, 2016-18, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2018 Christo

The London Mastaba is the culmination of a long obsession with barrels as a building block. The word Mastaba is an Arabic word for bench given to the seats found outside homes in ancient Mesopotamia. A much earlier work by Christo and Jeanne-Claude used rusted stacked barrels to very different effect. For this work, each 55 gallon barrel was specially made and painted for the project – the sides painted in red and white, with the exposed ends in red, blue and mauve. The colours were selected to interact with the ever-changing London sky, the surface of the Serpentine and the park around it. “The colours will transform with the changes in the light and its reflection on the Serpentine Lake will be like an abstract painting,”  he said recently of the finished project.

Christo, The Mastaba

Christo, The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), Drawing 2017 in two parts Photo: André Grossmann © 2017 Christo

London Mastaba

Workers installing barrels on the vertical side of the London Mastaba, May 2018, Photo: Wolfgang Volz

Colour is one of the key defining factors that distinguish the work of the couple. Their large-scale interventions in the landscape often use a single, powerful colour to create their effects. The Floating Piers, which graced Lake Iseo in Italy in the summer of 2016, swathed a small island in ‘daihlia-yellow’ fabric, linking it to the shore by a number of floating walkways.

The Floating Piers

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2016 Christo


The Floating Piers

Christo , The Floating Piers (Project for Lake Iseo, Italy), Collage 2016, photographs by Wolfgang Volz and fabric sample, 14 x 11″ (35.5 x 28 cm), Photo: André Grossmann, © 2016 Christo

In a recent interview with AnOther magazine, the artist confided that although colour is a key component of the works, it is usually the element which is decided upon last. Speaking about The Umbrellas, in which hundreds of yellow umbrellas were installed in a Californian valley, and blue umbrellas in a valley in Japan, he says, “We wanted the work to take place in the summer. In California the grass by then is burnt yellow in the sun, while in Japan their summers are wet and the rivers swell with blue water. The colour of the work is the last element we decide, and is picked by how we view the environment.”

Surrounded Islands

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 1983 Christo


Surrounded Islands

Christo, Surrounded Islands (Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida), Drawing 1982 in two parts, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 1982 Christo

Find out more about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work at their website. The London Mastaba is free to view until 9 September 2018.

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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