'When the mastaba of Abu Dhabi will be made, it will be the biggest sculpture in the world, higher than the pyramid of Cheops' – Christo
The Mastaba project in Abu Dhabi was conceived in 1977, but never realised. The work was to be a gigantic sculpture erected in the desert of Abu Dhabi comprising 440,000 multicoloured oil barrels. Stacked on top of one another on their sides, they form a mosaic of bright colours, echoing Islamic architecture. Indeed, mastabas were Egyptian funerary structures used to entomb the kings of the first two dynasties. They dreamed and thought about the project for many years and did create two smaller versions: at the Maeght Foundation and on the lake in London's Hyde Park in 2018. However, both versions were considered to be stages along a path toward an enormous project. Photos of Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, in the sand dunes some 160 km outside Abu Dhabi, between 1979 and 1982, at the beginning of their collaborative planning for a permanent mastaba that would be 400 times bigger than the one shown at the Maeght Foundation: 150 metres tall, 300 metres wide and 225 metres long. The Mastaba (project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates) was a very accomplished preparatory project and a symbol of Christo's great, and still unfulfilled, wish.
The installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude were largely responsible for taking art outside museums. They are ephemeral by nature. Therefore, the only traces left behind by these prodigious installations are the books, photographs, drawings, collages and preparatory models held in museums and private collections. Drawings are, after all, the only way to conserve a part of this monumental work, to remember it so that it can continue to exist, which is what prompted Christo to say, “the collector is not just buying a drawing, for he also knows that the process of execution is part of the work” (A.-F. Penders, Conversation avec Christo et Jeanne-Claude, Gerpinnes 2002).