In London’s Hyde Park, something extraordinary has taken place. From the banks of the Serpentine, the artificial lake that bisects the green space, you can get a glimpse of a truly awe-inspiring spectacle. Composed of 7,506 multi-colored oil barrels, it forms a vast, trapezoidal shape that rises far above the tree line and dwarfs the pedalo boats that bob aimlessly around it. This is the London Mastaba, the latest project by the impossibly imaginative landscape artist known as Christo. It is his first monumental work in the U.K., and it’s just as unignorable as his previous achievements. (The public sculpture is an outdoor companion to a survey show at the Serpentine Galleries.)
Along with his late wife Jeanne-Claude, Christo has spent the last 57 years repeatedly redefining the parameters of installation and land art, creating a body of work that defies categorization and recognizes no limit to possibility. Using cheap, commonplace materials—fabric, tape, plastic—and with a practice supported via the sale of drawings and architectural models, the artists realized ideas that sound entirely fantastical until carried through.
Any space, from city streets to desert valleys, can become a canvas for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ideas: They have created art all over the world, filling Central Park with “gates” created from orange fabric; building a 25-mile fence out of nylon panels in California; innovating a structure that allowed visitors to walk across an Italian lake; and wrapping the ancient walls of Rome in plastic sheets and rope.
Christo doesn’t give explanations of his work (as he recently told the Sunday Times, “We make beautiful things, unbelievably useless, totally unnecessary”), and prior to her untimely death, Jeanne-Claude was, if anything, even less revealing. Yet it’s hard not to see their wider project as an attempt to change our relationship to landscape itself, thus opening us up to a whole new way of looking at the world. The work may all be temporary, but the ambition behind it is boundless.