The Arts: Roll out the barrel

Controversially, he once wrapped up the Reichstag and called it art. But for his latest grandiose project, 'The Wall', installation artist Christo has chosen to work with oil - barrels, that is
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Oberhausen, Germany. In the heart of one of the largest gasometers in the world, Christo, with his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, have placed one of their most dramatic installations to date. Using different coloured oil barrels, they have created a wall that stretches 69m wide, is 26m high and 2m deep, across the chasm of the disused space. It is a simple enough idea - like all Christo's projects - but one that works well on a big scale; so big that visitors look positively ant-like in front of this honeycomb feature.

The Bulgarian-born artist, who formally teamed up with his wife several years ago, is famous for wrapping up the most ambitious of places: he has curtained a valley in Colorado, wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris and erected kilometres of blue umbrellas in Japan. More recently he wrapped the Reichstag - the most poignant and overtly political gesture he has been involved with, and a project that prompted much heated debate in Germany.

The Wall, an idea that Christo has been working on in various guises since 1958, has had its own brush with metaphor. The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi project for the United Arab Emirates (started in 1979) was planned as a 150m-high wall of 400,000 oil barrels (Oberhausen has a timorous 13,000), a mass large enough to fit 48 skyscrapers into, and either a symbol of conspicuous consumption or a celebration of the UAE's economic might, depending on your personal cynicism. The project remains unfinished.

These days public art is deeply unfashionable, monuments are out, so this is why Christo and Jeanne-Claude's temporary installations get the go-ahead - perhaps helped by the fact that virtually no public money is involved in each project.

And The Wall makes for a great installation, even if style outweighs content. More likely to explain their work with lordly vagueness - "the only purpose of this monument is to be itself" - this duo are never happier than rustling up some more dollars for their next BIG piece. They have no limits. n

'The Wall' is on show at The Gasometer, Am Grafenbusch 90, 47047 Oberhausen, Germany, until 3 October.

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