Tuesday, July 3, 2018


I cancelled Olga's dog walker yesterday so she and I could go on a special adventure. I took her on the tube down to Hyde Park so we could see the Mastaba at the Serpentine.

The Mastaba is a gigantic structure by Christo, who with his late partner Jeanne-Claude is known for installing large-scale environmental artworks. They surrounded Florida islands with hot pink fabric and hung an orange curtain across a Colorado canyon, for example. This is Christo's first major outdoor public work in the UK.

It consists of 7,506 stacked 55-gallon drums, like those used for oil (but these were newly made for this project). It's about 66 feet high and sits on an elaborate platform and scaffold, held in place with 32 anchors. You can read more here about the Mastaba, its construction and the environmental factors that were considered before its installation.

Apparently a mastaba is a type of ancient Mesopotamian bench, with this shape.

Olga wasn't all that taken with it. She was more concerned with cooling off in the water and I was distracted trying to prevent her tennis ball from drifting off into oblivion in the lake.

The Mastaba is certainly a very colorful presence. But despite its size, at least one art reviewer was underwhelmed, calling it "a gigantic bath toy afloat on tepid waters."

I used to take Olga to Hyde Park all the time back when we lived in Notting Hill. I looked for some sign that she recognized it, but it's hard to tell -- we haven't been there for years, and we entered from the east side rather than our usual west, so that could have confused her. Still, we had a great time walking around under clear sunny skies, visiting the Albert Memorial, having a cheese toastie by the lake (well, I did, anyway) and later hearing a busker sing "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," which for some reason seemed a perfect song for a summer day.


  1. The title of this blogpost was slightly alarming. I like to think that I am open-minded about public art but to be honest I think that that thing is a blot on the landscape and a self-indulgent flight of fancy. Some may say it is cool to give the green light to each and every wacky public art project but I disagree with such thoughtless liberalism. Not everything is okay.

  2. I'm not sure if I like this or not, but the fact that it's made out of plastic oil drums isn't good is it?

  3. YP: Re. the title, I had to really think about it before I even understood what you were getting at! I think it's interesting, but best of all, it's temporary. The Serpentine will be back to its old self in September.

    Briony: I believe the drums are metal, not plastic. Apparently after this they get recycled.

  4. Christo has always made me wonder about the nature of art. If what he did was on a tiny scale, it would be...nothing.
    But doing such huge installations makes it somehow art?
    I guess.
    And it sure makes people talk. It doesn't really evoke much emotion from me though.

  5. Who was it who said, "Art is anything you can get away with?" Ah, it was Marshall McCluhan. He was right. Looks like it was a beautiful day there for you and Olga to take a nice walk.

  6. mastabas were early tombs in Egypt. this certainly makes you go cross-eyed looking at it. I've never cared much for Christo's work and this one doesn't change my mind.

  7. I'm not sure I care for this art piece. I'm biased against oil drums as in the arctic our fuel came in in oil drums and the drums were not taken south but abandoned there. What a mess!

  8. Fantastic photos and what a great link too! I enjoyed seeing the photos of the workmen putting the thing together. I'm so glad you shared these with us. I'm not sure I really "get" his art but I do enjoy seeing it. I suppose that might be all an artist can ask.
    Another sunny day in London. :-)

  9. WOW! What a gorgeous blast of color in the Serpentine, LOVE it! Christo's installations inspire us! Why not use existing landscape as a canvas ? Pretty sure the birds might be confused, Olga doesn't seem to mind, and it is temporary- it's all good. What a lot of work! I love the way it looks- other worldly and four dimensional against nature. Thanks for posting this. So cool. Happy making!

  10. Christo has a huge ego, not that that makes him different from 99% of artists. His stuff is very intrusive, aggressive, and wasteful. I vote "No" on this one.

  11. It's that fabulous ....?
    How long is it there ?

  12. I much prefer seeing Olga wading in the water.

  13. I have a much different opinion of the installation after reading the article you linked to! I wasn't crazy about the idea of huge art incurring manufacturing (and then recycling) costs, but it seems the artist is attempting to balance those costs by paying for improvements at the location after the installation is taken down. And for that I have to give credit where it's due.

    I've seen pictures of his previous art, too, and my feeling is that if he didn't do this kind of work, someone else would be doing it, and they might not be as ethical about it.

  14. I saw Christo's umbrellas on the California hillsides. Not impressed at all. I saw the yellow fabric up and down and across the river in Colorado. Equally not impressed. And, now I see this one through your camera. I think his art is getting worse, not better.

  15. Jennifer: She likes to wade, but I've never seen her actually swimming with her feet off the bottom.

    Ms Moon: I think the size of the pieces is critical. It's the grandeur of the immense gesture, made all the more poignant by its extremely temporary lifespan.

    Robin: Ha! I guess Marshall was right!

    Ellen: I DO like the brilliant color, I must say.

    Red: Well, at least these get removed and recycled at the end of the summer.

    Sharon: I think it's cool that he's around and he does these things, even if I don't quite "get" them either.

    Linda Sue: It IS an exciting blast of color in the park, that's for sure!

    Vivian: If anything bothers me, it's the waste. I know all the stuff gets recycled in the end, but still -- this is a lot of resources to put toward something so temporary and non-functional. Still, I guess that's part of the point.

    John: It's up until some time in September, John! Come to London! :)

    Catalyst: Olga definitely prefers the wading, too.

    Jenny-O: Yeah, I think critical parts of Christo's pitch to communities where he stages his works is that he pays all the costs, and he helps make improvements. It sounded to me like that article was trying very hard to head off any criticism of the environmental impact of this work. It seems pretty inert to me, in terms of what it could do to the Serpentine directly. It's more a question of resource allocation, I think.

    Peace Thyme: Ha! Maybe the absence of Jeanne-Claude is having a negative effect, although I think some of her ideas were incorporated into this piece too.