Spectacular desert sculpture plan revived

The Mastaba

A long-standing project to create a towering sculpture in the Abu Dhabi desert taller than St Paul’s Cathedral in London is gaining fresh momentum – 36 years after its conception.

The New York-based conceptual artist known as Christo wants to construct the world’s biggest permanent art installation, a 150-metre high flat-topped pyramid made of 410,000 multicoloured oil drums.

Planned setting for the work, called The Mastaba, is what he describes as the “spectacularly beautiful” landscape of Al Gharbia, around 160 kilometres from the city of Abu Dhabi.

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The site, near an oasis, has some of the world’s highest sand dunes and is home to wild gazelles.

Christo says the coloured barrels will reflect the yellow and red sands creating the visual effect of an Islamic mosaic.

“When the sun rises the vertical wall will become almost full of gold,” he said.

Estimated cost of the construction is $340 million and it was first dreamt up in 1977. It has now been resurrected following other recent art and architectural projects in Abu Dhabi such as British architect Norman Foster designing the Zayed National Museum.

The project is being outlined by its creator on a short lecture tour of the south west USA and a book entitled The Mastaba, Project for Abu Dhabi has just been published.

In it Christo states that none of his work has a political slant.

Quoting his ex-wife Jeanne-Claude who helped draw up the original draft plans he states: “We only do works of joy and beauty.”

In more recent years Christo’s other projects have included Wrapped Reichstag – in which the parliament building in Berlin, Germany was cloaked in cloth – and a giant snake stretching almost 40 kilometres through Central Park, New York.

He also enclosed Paris’ Pont Neuf in golden fabric and surrounded 11 islands off the coast of Miami, USA, in pink material..

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