Christo, known for his environmental installations, has announced plans to create a new permanent work—the world’s largest, most expensive sculpture. The monumental project, The Mastaba, will reach a height of nearly 500 feet, topping the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Resembling a flat-topped pyramid with a rectangular base, The Mastaba takes its name and shape from a type of tomb used by ancient Egyptian nobles. Projected to cost $340 million, the sculpture will be built in the Al Gharbia region’s Liwa Oasis, 100 miles south of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. A projected opening date has not yet been set.
Christo, a Bulgarian-born American artist, worked for most of his career with his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009 at the age of 74. Their best-known works include stretching a giant orange curtain across Colorado’s Rifle Gap (Valley Curtain, 1970-72), swathing Berlin’s Reichstag building in silver fabric (Wrapped Reichstag, 1971-95) and creating a roaming installation of bright orange curtains hanging above the pathways of New York’s Central Park (The Gates, 1979-2005). The Mastaba will be their first permanent large-scale work.
Though the piece will be constructed from 410,000 multicolored oil barrels, Christo told the Guardian that the material is not meant to offer any commentary on the region’s primary resource. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have previously used the containers in works like Wall of Oil Barrels – The Iron Curtain (1961-62), one of the duo’s earliest projects, in which 89 of the rusted containers blocked a narrow Paris street for eight hours as a response to the newly constructed Berlin Wall. In The Mastaba, barrels will be painted in shades inspired by the desert sands and evoking Islamic mosaics.
It is not yet entirely clear who will be footing the project’s bill, but Christo told the Guardian the work will be independently financed by unnamed investors and supported by as much as $10 million raised by the sale of his own work. The project has the support of the country’s royal family (Christo will work directly with Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the younger brother of the country’s crown prince), but the artist declined to comment on the family’s financial involvement, though they own the land where The Mastaba will be built.
The new work, which will be accompanied by a nearby exhibition space devoted to information about the piece, as well as a new luxury hotel and restaurant, is expected to take 30 months to complete and will mark the realization of plans first drawn up in 1977 by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The two had scouted locations in the desert in Abu Dhabi on several trips dating back to 1979, but conflict in the region forced the pair to put The Mastaba on hold.
The project’s rebirth is one more step in Abu Dhabi’s quest to become the Middle East’s arts and culture capital, with plans for a new Zayed National Museum to be designed by British firm Foster + Partners and for an outpost of Paris’s Louvre Museum. The Mastaba is expected to draw as many as two million visitors a year.