Something huge has taken up residence in the Serpentine Lake this summer and its presence, much like that of the ongoing Serpentine Pavillion project, is something that is bound to last in the memory of those visiting Hyde Park. The enormous structure, built of 7,506 oil barrels in lurid pink and red will float on the surface of the lake until September, deliberately inhibiting the view of the park’s many visitors. Amongst the surrounding greenery it is most certainly imposing and has a domineering effect on the landscape that surrounds it, there is no better way to be seen as it simply cannot be avoided or ignored. The Mastaba and the current exhibition of their work at the nearby Serpentine Gallery is the first exhibition of the couple’s work in the UK.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, a married couple, were both born on the same day of the same year. After falling in love while making their work, the pair rapidly became recognised for making huge interventions into the cultural landscape. Until 1994 the works were tactically credited to Christo alone before retrospectively having this corrected to Christo and Jeanne-Claude soon after. Throughout their career they have been both daring and provocative, working tirelessly both against governments and with them to make hugely socio-political statements. The first of such projects was Iron Curtain (1962) which the couple constructed a wall of 89 barrels which cut off a street in the centre of palace. The work itself was a reaction to the then current protests in Paris about the Berlin wall which had been built in the previous year. This project marked the time that the pair’s work became known in Paris.
Soon after, the pair’s shift to the United States led them to a collaboration with photographer Wolfgang Volz with whom they worked almost exclusively on their larger projects. It was in this time, the early 1970s that the pair first began work on the project to wrap the Reichstag in Berlin. The project was massively ambitious and though it consistently held a place in their studio it often took a back seat to more incumbent projects. In the early 90s Christo and Jeanne-Claude took the project head on and began the lengthy process of convincing the 662 delegates of the Reichstag that the wrapping of the building should go ahead. On the 25 February 1995, after a 70 minute debate and vote, permission was finally granted and the duo began work.
The realisation of the project saw the building wrapped in 100,000 m2 of fireproof polypropylene fabric with an aluminium layer atop it. With the wrapping complete on 24 June 1995 over 5 million visitors arrived to see the spectacle before the “unveiling” began on the 7 July.
The couple went on to produce a number of large scale projects after this time, most notably The Gates in New York which was yet another lengthy and protracted project involving a great amount of red tape. The final result was made reality in 1995.
One of the most key aspects of the work of this couple was the acceptance of these long, arduous periods of planning. They combatted the legislation by working on many projects at once, taking the step to travel individually from one another when flying so that if there were an accident on of the two would be able to continue with their important work. Unfortunately, after a short illness Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, leaving her partner in life and art behind to continue their work. Since then several of their projects have been realised including The Mastaba, Big Air Package and the Floating Piers. Work is still ongoing on a large-scale installation in near Abu Dhabi which will be the first ever permanent piece of their work. Christo drew one of their more longer term projects to a close, Over The River, in protest of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2017.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude are our artists of the month for July. There is an exhibition of their work currently on display at the Serpentine Gallery.
Amy E. Brown
Featured image: The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, 2016-18, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 2018 Christo