Christo on the Serpentine

Christo, famous for wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin  has a new installation this summer in London.

It’s a 66ft high array of oil barrels in the shape of a pyramid with the top cut off – called a Mastaba. Mathematically we would call it a trapezoid.  It is a shape that is reported to have been popular with ancient Mesopotamians and the word mastaba is an arabic word for bench. It is floating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, Central London until September 9. There is an accompanying exhibition in the Serpentine Gallery that I have not yet seen.

Christo (full name Christo Vladimirov Javacheff) has been wrapping things for more than half a century. Twenty three schemes have gone ahead, and another forty-seven never made it off the drawing board. Apart from the two listed above he has skirted islands off the coast of Miami in pink fabric, and erected a 25 mile curtain of fabric in California. All his projects are monumental and self-funded.

The Mastaba suggests a completely new direction for the artist but that is not the case. Interviews and reports associated with the London installation reveal that Christo has been interested in barrels since the late 1950s. In fact in the 1960s he used oil drums  to blockade (briefly) a Parisian street illegally. On the drawing board, and in development now, is a much larger Mastaba destined for the Abu Dhabi desert.

I was very much aware of the Mastaba through articles and pictures in the press. Thinking about how I might photograph it, I had considered that the image would probably be  abstract. When seen, in the flesh, the installation in the Serpentine is immediately eye-catching and arresting, but as a shape I would not call it beautiful. I walked round it – quite a long walk up one side of the Serpentine and back down the other, searching for an image that was different in some way. The colours – red, blue and magenta – on the vertical sides were dense. The sloping sides were red with white stripes. Neither ‘spoke’ to my creative heart. It was not until I got an oblique view of one of the vertical sides, almost looking into the sun, that suddenly my ‘Eye’ saw images. And this is what I saw:

The barrels, in places, changed colours. The palette of colours broadened, with muted colours reflecting off the barrel ends. Patience was rewarded.

If London is accessible to you, do go and see this before September. You won’t be disappointed. Images will come but you may need to spend time working out ‘how’ you see them.





About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'.
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20 Responses to Christo on the Serpentine

  1. Sue says:

    Ah, this is the best image I have seen of an amazing installation ….


  2. TSB says:

    Interesting that this successful image takes the composition of barrels out of its context, whereas most of the artists’ work is very much part of a context – I say ‘artists’ because this piece is credited by the Serpentine Gallery to Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude.


    • LensScaper says:

      Many thanks for your comment. Yes, Christo and his wife worked closely together for many years. This image can work as a standalone abstract but also works as part of a visual story of this installation – demonstrating that when seen from particular angles there are more colours visible than what you first saw.


  3. Dina says:

    This is absolutely amazing! It looks fascinating, thanks for the information and the wonderful images, Andy.


  4. ShimonZ says:

    I admire your persistence, and the fact that you managed to evince an interesting photograph from this monument. At best, I’ve been lukewarm to his art, though it’s provocative as a teaching aid in the study of art.


  5. paula graham says:

    Amazing, you did it proud.


  6. Heide says:

    Must confess I’ve never really understood Christo’s work — but that’s probably because I’ve never been able to see his work in person. Judging from your photos and enthusiastic review I’ve been missing out. Great post, Andy!


    • LensScaper says:

      Me too, Heide. I’ve seen his work in magazines in the past and was astonished by the scale of some of them and wondered ‘why?’, and who pays? This installation is a departure from his norm, although the evidence is that he has been thinking about barrels for years. I enjoy art as a stimulus creatively and as a challenge photographically. It took a while to find an image that I liked of this object.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heide says:

        “… the evidence is that he has been thinking about barrels for years.” Isn’t that true of ALL of us, Andy? Ha ha. Well, although I don’t always understand modern art I do appreciate the folks who are out there thinking about barrels and presenting them to us in new ways — while sparking our own creativity in the process.


        • LensScaper says:

          Thanks Heide. I think all of us creative folk have ideas that are in the back of our minds, just waiting to be encouraged, or waiting for a moment when we listen to those ideas and decide to make something of them.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. That is quite an installation. Not surprising when knowing is by Christo. I really like your close-up of the barrels. Cool colours.


    • LensScaper says:

      And the one in Abu Dhabi will be ten times bigger than this! I didn’t think I was going to find an image that was different while walking round this installation. But it pays to take time (not something I am always good at) and it was exciting to find something with a different colour palette.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. seekraz says:

    Not so wonderful from a distance, but fascinating up close, as you’ve demonstrated. Nicely done, Andy.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. bluebrightly says:

    An interesting post…this Christo isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as his draped pieces are (to me), but your second photo finds the treasure.


  10. Pingback: On the Way | LensScaper

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