Why Is There A Giant Pyramid Floating On The Serpentine?

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 71 months ago

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Last Updated 18 June 2018

Why Is There A Giant Pyramid Floating On The Serpentine?
Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2018 Christo

Who doesn't love heading to Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens on a sunny weekend to sit by the Serpentine? This summer visitors will be confronted by a giant pyramid of blue, red and purple barrels floating on the water.

Is it an example of extreme fly tipping or a viral marketing stunt by an oil company? Nope, it’s a piece of conceptual art by the artist duo famed for creating massive artworks — Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

It takes stepping back to really appreciate its scale and how it stands out from its surroundings. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2018 Christo

The artist duo that wrapped the Reichstag in plastic and created a giant yellow floating island have brought a monumental art project to London for the first time. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 but it’s definitely a joint effort between the husband and wife pair as the idea has been gestating for decades.

The floating creation is called the Mastaba, and Christo refuses to draw any interpretation from it, preferring people to make their own minds up on it. What he does say is:

For three months the London Mastaba will be 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… The sculpture and exhibition will be absolutely free to the public - no tickets, no reservations and no owners.

From the early days when it was still under construction. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2018 Christo

Now that’s a philosophy we can get behind — though we imagine it does have an owner, as someone has to take it down at the end of the summer.

There’s a related exhibition of work at the Serpentine gallery though that’s best viewed as a sideshow for the main event that is upon the lake.

What's even more impressive is that while this work is massive, it's nothing compared to the other Mastaba Christo has in mind, which will be 150 metres high and situated in the middle of the desert in UAE.  Looks like London is just the appetiser, though the UAE project has been awaiting permission for years so who knows if it will be granted.

What do we think?

20 metres high and made up of over 7,500 barrels the massive scale only becomes apparent from the shores of the lake when a swan swims right in front of it. The vivid colours and the straight lines offer a stark contrast to the natural curve of the Serpentine itself and the trees in the background.

It’s bold, it’s fun and everyone will be sticking it on their Instagram. We do love a work of art that just hits you as soon as you see it, and you have to stop, mouth agape, just to take it all in. It’s the kind of reaction people have when they first come across the Grand Canyon or the Himalayas. They are not there to serve human needs, they just exist and we have no choice but to admire them.

It’s best not to read too much into the use of barrels, as it’s a medium that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been working with since the late 1950s and it feels like their use of it has evolved along with their art.

The Mastaba is named after an Egyptian tomb of a similar shape, but the colours mean it's anything but tomb-like. However, it does unite an ancient architectural style to something that feels much more modern — a contrast that's been present in a lot of projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

It’s art that engages everyone, draws people to it and isn’t confined by white walls. It’s how public art should be displayed and we’re big fans of it — we’re up for petitioning to keep it in the lake as a permanent installation and to let the waterfowl take ownership of it.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958–2018 is on at Serpentine Gallery from 19 June to 9 September 2018. The Mastaba is on public display. Both are free to visit.