Since 1958 Christo and Jeanne-Claude have created works using barrels. While barrel columns were prevalent before 1967, from the late 1960s two basic forms dominate all of the artists’ barrel projects: the wall and the mastaba.
In Paris in 1962, a year after the Berlin Wall had been built in August of 1961, Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed Wall of Oil Barrels – The Iron Curtain, which closed the rue Visconti with a wall of 89 barrels. In June 1967, following the Six-Day War over the Suez Canal, the artists proposed to close the inland waterway with a Ten Million Oil Barrels Wall. The project was never realized.
The mastabas originated in the way in which barrels are often stacked. A mastaba is a flat-topped, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides, dating back to Mesopotamia, where it was a bench in front of peoples’ homes for travellers to rest upon. Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized their first mastaba-shaped structure at Cologne Harbor in 1961 (Stacked Oil Barrels and Dockside Packages). In 1968, they realized a 1,240 Oil Barrels Mastaba at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.
Ever since, Christo and Jeanne-Claude tried to build a much bigger mastaba in public space. In the late 1960s, the artists started to work to install a larger mastaba near a highway between Houston and Galveston, Texas.
After that project fell through in the early 70s, Christo and Jeanne-Claude proposed, in 1973, to build a smaller version in the middle of a parking lot that was planned to be build near the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Holland, which owns a large collection of Christo’s works. Again, that idea fell through.
In 1977, Christo and Jeanne-Claude started working to get permission to realize The Mastaba, a project for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.