Since 1977 Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been working on their largest mastaba of oil barrels, a project conceived for the city of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The couple is mostly famous for their ephemeral monuments obtained by wrapping famous natural sites, sculptures or buildings, but during the years they also conducted parallel studies for the creation of monuments entirely made of barrels. These projects usually employ hundreds or thousands of barrels piled to form walls, (like for the “Iron Curtain” which blocked the rue Visconti in Paris in 1962), or a “mastaba”, a flat topped rectangular structure with sloping sides, like in their 1968 project for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, a structure of 1,240 oil barrels. The name and the shape of “mastaba” makes reference to ancient Egyptian tombs constructed out of mud-bricks or stone. Apparently, according to what Christo reported in an interview, “Mastaba is the old name of the mud bench found at the first urban place we know in the world—in Mesopotamia“.
The still unbuilt Abu-Dhabi Mastaba will be the world’s largest man-made sculpture, a 150 m (492-foot) tall structure made of 410,000 multi-colored barrels. Eventually, in 2012, after more than 30 years since its original conception, the artists obtained the building permissions and the site was approved. The sculpture/monument is indipendently financed by the artists as in the tradition of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works: the couple usually produces an extensive amount of drawings in order to sell them and use the proceeds to finance the building of their works.
Easy speculations might point out the irony of the construction of a gigantic oil barrels monument in the region of Abu-Dhabi, but Christo has denied any polemical or political intent and underlined the aim for a pure aestethical pleasure of this majestic landmark which he doesn’t hesitate to compare to Bernini’s St.Peter or to the Eiffel tower. The barrels will come in ten different colors arranged to echo Islamic mosaics.
“Jeanne-Claude and I, we do these things for ourselves. If somebody likes it, it’s only a bonus. We do things we enjoy visually. But you should understand, the work is not in the results. The journey is the work—it’s incredible. These projects bring us to places that are so much richer than the art world or the art gallery or the museum. We get to work with so many different people. It’s like an adventure and it’s very exciting and it’s foolish. It’s totally irrational and useless. But Jeanne-Claude and I like to do them. Nobody asks us. We like to think them up and we like to build them” (Christo in an interview with Barbara Rose on “Interview magazine”)
All images © Christo and Jeanne-Claude