Anyone who has been through Hyde Park recently will probably have been curious by the elaborate construction works which have been taking place on and around the Serpentine since the start of April. Well, the works are now nearing completion and, when the finished product is unveiled, on 18 June, it should provide one of the highlights of the London summer.
The Mastaba, as the project is entitled, after an ancient Mesopotamian word, is a temporary floating sculpture created by the legendary Bulgarian artist Christo, best-known for his long artistic collaboration with his Moroccan-born wife Jeanne Claude, who died in 2009. The couple were born in their respective countries on exactly the same day, 13 June 1935, and became associated with large-scale outdoor projects such as the wrapping of the Reichstag and The Gates in New York’s Central Park.
The same ambition of scale underpins the Mastaba, which will measure 20 metres by 30 metres by 40 metres and comprise more than seven thousand horizontally stacked 55-gallon barrels, painted in a spectrum of bright colours. Weighing approximately 500 tons, it is the artist’s first major outdoor work in the UK and has been assembled by a team of experienced engineers, who have had to cope with the vagaries of the English weather as well as various logistical challenges.
Christo has been fascinated by barrels throughout his long career and, while the Mastaba is floating on the Serpentine, the neighbouring Serpentine Galleries will be hosting a major exhibition of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s drawings and collages, many of them using barrels as a motif. The exhibition will offer visitors a chance to experience the work of two genuinely pioneering artists.
As for the Mastaba itself, the best news for Londoners is that, like the majority of Christo’s best-known work, it can be enjoyed free of charge. The project is being funded by the artist himself, who does not accept sponsorship. Meticulous care is also being taken to preserve the ecosystem of the lake, with funding allocated for the creation of new habitats for birds and bats on Serpentine Island.
With just days to go before the unofficial unveiling, there is a definite air of expectation in and around Hyde Park for local residents living in Connaught Village and the surrounding area. Christo’s vast floating sculpture, unlike anything seen in the capital before, is yet another example of the diverse, fast-changing cultural scene that makes London one of the world’s best places to live.
*The Mastaba will float on the Serpentine from 18 June to 23 September, in tandem with an exhibition of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s work at the Serpentine Galleries, which runs from 19 June to 9 September. Visitor information about the two projects will be regularly updated on the Royal Parks (www.royalparks.org.uk) and Serpentine Galleries (www.serpentinegalleries.org) websites.
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