Monday, 20 August 2018

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The London Mastaba

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's huge installation on the Serpentine lake in Hyde park has to be perhaps, the most talked about art event in London this summer. It is both massive, and visually impressive, dominating the lake and landscape of the park.

Surprisingly, having created such a vast artwork, Christo claims that it has no meaning and that it is up to the viewer to impose their own meaning onto the artwork. The London Mastaba is 65.5ft high, created from 7,506 recyclable oil barrels coloured red, blue and mauve, 190ft long and weighs 600 tons. A "mastaba" is Arabic for a bench usually made of stone, and also Egyptian tombs. The size of the piece certainly suggests the scale and grandeur of a tomb worthy of any pharoah.The couple have never been afraid of ambition and scale in their work in the past - you only need to look at their successful schemes such as The Floating Piers, Wrapped Reichstag, and Surrounded Island projects to realise this.

The accompanying exhibition at The Serpentine Gallery displays the preparatory sketches and models for the London Mastaba, and documents the artistic pairs earliest installations from 1958 which incorporated wrapped oil barrels such as Wall of Barrels, where he barricaded Paris's Rue Visconti in a political commentary on the Berlin Wall (below). 

From the sketches in the Serpentine Gallery now, to the real thing floating in the Serpentine itself. Critics have been rather sniffy about the sculpture, adopting a nimby stance to the London Mastaba, complaining of obscurred views. Personally I don't see what's not to like. The colours are very appealing. It is only a temporary structure which will be dismantled in the autumn. Christo has personally funded the project himself, so there is no expense on the public's purse. The construction materials will be recycled, and crucially the welfare of the wildlife of the Serpentine lake has been taken into account and protected. When the Mastaba is deconstructed new habitats will be installed for the bats and herons that live in the park, and there will be a litter clearance of the lake and water treatments to inhibit the growth of damaging algae. Christo envisioned the original Mastaba piece as being created six times larger than the London Mastaba. This vision may still yet be realised appropriately enough in Abu Dhabi. As impressive as the London Mastaba version is - made of 7,506 barrels, a version six times larger, made up of over 45,000 barrels, would truly be something to behold.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The London Mastaba
(Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake)
until 23rd September

Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-201
Serpentine Gallery Exhibition
until 9th September
Kensington Gardens

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Peter Blake: A Life in Drawings and Watercolours

This summer show sees a rare outing of Peter Blake's very early drawings, charting his development from a student at Gravesend School of Art and the Royal College of Art, to full blown artist and national treasure.

It was fascinating to see many older pencil works never displayed before from his personal archive, and also more recent life drawings. You can see how essential the discipline of drawing is to his practice. Blake's interest in and application of typography is also recorded in the early drawings.

Some recent royal portraits display Blake's skills as a watercolourist, and others his continuing fascination with circus performers and tattooed ladies.

Also present in the exhibition are Blake's latest Party Watercolours depicting children enjoying themselves. They are signature Blake works, which although painted, look as though they have been collaged together from disparate sources. There are also individual portraits of children in party settings which resemble mugshots, where, despite the obvious festivities, some of the subjects look uncomfortably ill at ease. Perhaps in jest, perhaps all too aware of his own mortality, Blake signs these recent works 'late period'.

Peter Blake: A Life in Drawings and Watercolours
until 4th September
Waddington Custot
11 Cork Street