Christo and Jeanne-Claude Are Still Creating Posthumously

Though the vast majority of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects have been ephemeral, the late artist duo’s estate may soon realize their only permanent sculpture—a 500-foot-tall structure of stacked barrels in the desert near Abu Dhabi.

Christo with plans for the “Mastaba” in 2012. Photography by Wolfgang Volz, courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Throughout their five-decade career, Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed surreal landscape installations that encouraged people to see, feel, and interact. Their site-specific works spanned the globe—from fabric-swathed cliffs on the Australian coastline to artificial yellow piers floating throughout an Italian lake—and garnered a dedicated following of culture-hungry pilgrims, eager to catch the miraculous works before they disappeared. Even though both Christo and Jeanne-Claude have passed away, they left behind detailed plans for future artworks, the first of which commenced with the wrapping of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe in fabric last fall. 

Now comes The Mastaba, the world’s largest sculpture and the couple’s only permanent, large-scale public artwork. First conceived after a 1977 trip to the United Arab Emirates, the piece features 410,000 multi-colored steel barrels arrayed in a giant trapezoidal shape that echoes Islamic architecture and which, from afar, evokes a giant monolith partially submerged in the sand. Given its massive size (492 feet high, 984 feet long, and 738 feet deep), construction will be no small feat. Once the estate secures government approval, development is expected to take at least three years, meaning the sculpture will be unveiled around 2027—five decades after it was first conceived.

Abu Dhabi Mastaba (Project for United Arab Emirates) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Photography by Eeva-Inkeri, courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized a couple Mastabas throughout their career—one floating in London’s Serpentine Lake and another at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia—and the former explained its logic to Surface in our 2018 cover story. “When you stack cylindrical objects, their [hypotenuse] angle is sixty degrees,” Christo said. “It was a very natural form, and I had this unstoppable urge to do a mastaba [a Mesopotamian fixed bench outside the house, typically made of stone or earth] with the magic proportions of 2:3:4—the height of the structure two, the length of the sloping sixty-degree wall three, and the length of the base four.”

After decades of temporary works, it’s purely poetic that Christo and Jeanne-Claude will leave their permanent mark on the world not long after they left it. So what’s next?

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