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Sheikha Mayassa interview on CNNi

Qatar Museums

Sheikha Mayassa interview on CNNi

Contemporary artists invited to exhibit in Qatar should not insult the culture or traditions of the state, the head of Qatar Museums has said in a recent TV interview.

Over the past few years, the country has introduced the works of a number of controversial artists, including Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

But Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani said the aim of this was to create discussion rather than offend people.

Speaking to CNN International in what’s being called her first TV interview in two years, the chairperson said:

“Most contemporary art is provocative. And a lot of people say for good art to be good, it should be provocative.

We are very clear with the artists that you are free to decide on your exhibition, but you are not free to be insulting to our culture or traditions.”

During the half-hour program that was part of CNN Style, she added, “we do give them a lot of freedom, but with the pretext of respect.”

Facilitating art culture

During the interview, Sheikha Al Mayassa described herself as a “facilitator” of art and spoke about how she sees modern art fitting in with the country’s more conservative culture.

The official is widely considered to be one of the world’ most powerful Arab women, and with a purchasing budget rumored to be around US$1 billion, she is also a leading figure in the global art scene.

However, some of the contemporary artwork brought in under her watch has attracted controversy.

Zinadine statue

Doha Stadium Plus/Flickr

Zinadine statue

For example, a 5m-high bronze statue Coup de Tête of footballer Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup was initially installed on the Corniche in 2013.

But the sculpture, by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed, was quickly removed after some critics described it as “unsportsmanlike” and offensive to religious sensibilities.

Unifying element

Talking about how art fits into Qatari society, Sheikha Al Mayassa said:

“For as long as I can remember, art has been part of our culture. It has always been part of our identity, whether it’s preserving heritage, archaeology, excavation and collecting all sorts of art.”

She described art as being “powerful” and without boundaries, which can help to unite people from different backgrounds – an issue Qatar faces since the majority of its population is comprised of multiple expat communities.

“It (art) brings people from all walks of life together to talk about an idea. There is no limit to it,” Sheikha Al Mayassa added.

Luc Tyman exhibition


Luc Tyman exhibition

Speaking about herself and her reputation as a buyer of some of the world’s some significant artworks, she said:

“I like to see myself as a facilitator – I am not an expert, I am not an art historian. I like the collaborative effort between the curators, the artists and us the government. You are always learning new things, discovering new ideas and developing the community and the urban space and the public domain.”

‘No comment’

Under Sheikha Al Mayassa’s aegis, Qatar has been reputed to have bought numerous high-profile and expensive works, although it has never confirmed this.

The sale last year of an 1892 oil painting of two Tahitian girls by Paul Gauguin for a record-breaking $300 million caused a stir, with Qatar said at the time to have been the new owner.

Card Players, reportedly bought by Qatar for record-breaking $250 million.

Card Players, reportedly bought by Qatar for record-breaking $250 million.

In 2011, QM reportedly spent some $250 million for Cezanne’s The Card Players while in 2014 Qatar was also rumored to have bought Pablo Picasso’s famous Child With a Dove painting, which sold for $74.5 million.

“Our policy is not to comment on our acquisitions. We could have bought the work you think we have, or we could not have bought them. As we built our museums and you see our collections you will know what Qatar has bought and what were rumors all along,” Sheikha Al Mayassa told CNN.

She said the redevelopment of the old Civil Defense building into an artists’ hub known as the Fire Station and its artists in residence program was part of an initiative to “bring the best of the best from around the world or the most influential people to think in creative ways.”

“Creative people come up with the best solutions to times of change. We have invested a lot in education, and culture was the second thing we invested highly in,” she added.

Her interview is being shown on CNN International on Saturday, April 16 at 8:30am and 9:30pm and again on April 19 at 3:30pm Qatar time. An edited version of it can be seen here.


Smoke by Tony Smith


Smoke by Tony Smith

Qatar’s latest piece of public art, a new 24-foot-high black geometric sculpture, has just been unveiled outside the recently-opened Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (DECC) near City Center mall.

Titled “Smoke,” the two-tier aluminum installation was designed in 1967 by American artist Tony Smith, who created more than 50 large-scale artworks during the 1960s and 70s.

Smith’s work has appeared in collections in leading galleries across the world, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Humlebaek in Denmark and the Kröller-Müller Museum, which is in the Dutch city Otterlo.

Smoke by Tony Smith


Smoke by Tony Smith

Located at the entrance to the DECC in Dafna/West Bay, the sculpture is structured around geometric shapes, including five tetrahedrons and 45 extended octahedrons, Qatar Museums said in a joint statement with Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA).

“The sculpture’s powerful form was based on the artist’s fascination with geometry and the morphology of organic shapes like crystals and honeycombs. ‘Smoke’ is a celebration of the triangle – the base unit, which creates a strong and dominating sculpture,” QM continued.


Smoke was originally built from plywood for cost reasons in 1967, but was recreated in metal some 25 years after Smith’s death in 1980 to go on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Acclaimed architect Renzo Piano designed the museum’s Ahmanson Pavilion specifically to show off the sculpture.

It was on loan from Smith’s estate for two years before the museum managed to raise what is believed to have been several million dollars, thanks to a donation from the Belldegrun family, to buy the work in 2010, according to the LA Times.

At the time, the LACMA director Michael Govan said: “What I can say is that the sculpture is insured for over $5 million, but the estate made a significant discount to us because they thought it was a good idea to keep it in Los Angeles.”

Smoke was a key attraction at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it was installed in 2008 at the museum’s Ahmanson Pavilion and was loaned to LACMA.

Qatar apparently has a different edition of this work, whose current value is unknown, as QM does not publicly discuss the prices of its acquisitions.

Public art

Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al Mahmoud, acting chief executive of Qatar Museums, said in a statement he hoped the artwork would “inspire local talent and will be something for everyone to enjoy.”

“This magnificent sculpture is part of our vision at Qatar Museums to bring world class art to Qatar and enrich the lives of all those who live in and visit our country. The work of Qatar Museums is all around you – in parks, at the DECC, at the airport, at hospitals, even in the desert – as well as in our museums,” he went on.

Smoke is the latest in a series of public art sculptures acquired by QM, some of which have attracted controversy.

In January this year, to mark the upcoming 24th Men’s Handball World Championships in Doha, QM unveiled larger-than-life sculptures of hands reaching for the sky.

“The Challenge 2015" by Iraqi artist Ahmed Al Bahrani


“The Challenge 2015″ by Iraqi artist Ahmed Al Bahrani

Situated outside the Lusail Multipurpose Hall, the art works are called “The Challenge 2015” and were created by  Iraqi artist Ahmad Al Bahrani.

Hamad International Airport also features a number of sculptures and statues, including:

  • Lamp Bear by Swiss artist Urs Fischer;
  • Oryx sculptures by Dutch artist Tom Claassen and a playground by Tom Otterness; and
  • A desert horse sculpture by Qatari artist Ali Hassan.

QM’s public arts department also had a hand in the installation of Damien Hirst’s enormous bronze statues in front of the Sidra Medical and Research Center, which are currently under protective wraps; and Adel Abdessemed’s famous head-butt statue of two fighting footballers on the Corniche.

After a public outcry, these were moved and are currently in storage at the Museum of Arab Modern Art (Mathaf).

Parking at DECC

Starting tomorrow, the new DECC will roll out a pay-for-parking plan, officials said in a statement.

While sections of the facility’s underground carpark, which can accommodate nearly 3,000 vehicles, are reserved for organizers and visitors, the remaining spaces had been open to the public for free since the exhibition center launched last month.

DECC parking


DECC parking

However, starting Monday it will be regulated and security personnel will be onsite around the clock to monitor and secure the parking lots, DECC officials said, continuing:

“Our various service offerings are now open to both event organizers, their visitors and the general public and as such we needed to provide a secure, controlled and convenient parking solution to everyone who wants to use the facilities that DECC now offers.”

Speaking to Doha News, a convention center spokesperson said that due to the facility’s location opposite to City Center mall in the financial district, many shoppers may want to use its parking facilities.

The parking fee for visitors or the public will be:

  • Q5 for the first two hours to accommodate quick visits;
  • Q5 for each additional hour for the next three hours; and
  • QR10 for each extra hour for a maximum of QR150

Those who lose their tickets or don’t pay will be fined QR150.

Doha Exhibition and Convention Center

Peter Kovessy

Doha Exhibition and Convention Center

Attendees arriving by vehicle could be dropped off on the south side of the DECC, where there is space for some 200 taxis to queue, so they don’t need to pay for parking, while the north side of the building directly opposite City Center mall is allocated for exhibitors to load and unload supplies.

DECC is also offering a number of parking spaces that can be rented by individuals, companies and local government departments on a monthly or long term basis at “very competitive rates,” the statement said, without specifying the rates.

It added that the availability of these types of parking spaces is very limited.


Wall paining at Tuymans's Intolerance

Chantelle D'mello

Wall paining at Tuymans’s Intolerance

Artwork drawing inspiration from the Holocaust, religion, Disneyland and American politics are the focus of Luc Tuymans’ first solo show in the Middle East, which opened to the public in Qatar today.

The world-renowned Belgian painter is the latest in a series of high-profile artists – including Damien Hirst and Richard Serra – to showcase their work in Doha at Qatar Museums‘ Al Riwaq Gallery, near the Museum of Islamic Art.

Luc Tyman exhibition


QM chairperson Sheikha Al Mayassa at Luc Tyman exhibition opener.

The new exhibition, titled Intolerance, is both a retrospective collection, featuring works spanning over 30 years, and a showcase of new work that Tuymans composed specifically for the show.

Speaking to the press Friday, QM’s director of Public Art Jean-Paul Engelen said that the show would help foster “tolerance and (create) a cultural bridge…which (QM) has tried to (do) over the past five years.”

Tuymans, who has previously exhibited at several prestigious galleries worldwide including the MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Tate Gallery, further elaborated on the show’s theme, saying:

“Intolerance implies tolerance, in a very weird way…The entire show is about western image-building, because I am from the West. I’m from a particular region called Flanders, where this image building begun under religion.”

Flanders, a Dutch-speaking area in north of Belgium, and the inspiration for the popular WWI poem “In Flanders Fields,” features prominently as inspiration for many of Tuymans’ works, as does his family’s affiliation with the Holocaust.

Sketch of a gas chamber by Tuymans

Chantelle D'mello

Sketch of a gas chamber by Tuymans

At a press preview in 2010, Tuymans revealed that his mother worked in the Dutch resistance and hid refugees, while, paradoxically, two of his father’s brothers had been in the paramilitary Nazi Germany organization, Hitler Youth.

Wall paintings

To mark the show, Tuymans has created a series of five wall paintings, a technique that the artist routinely uses to re-create pieces that should have been part of the show, but were too expensive or cumbersome to transport, or couldn’t be retrieved from their respective galleries and collections.

“It wasn’t easy putting up this show. My assistants and I had to change the sketch up about 50 times, because of the prejudice toward the region (which made it hard to be loaned works).

But still, I wanted to have (these) images because they are important for the show, so I repainted them. They will be destroyed after the show. I have over a 100 of these wall paintings that have been destroyed,” Tuymans said.

Wall painting at Tuymans's Intolerance

Chantelle D'mello

Wall painting at Tuymans\’s Intolerance

The five paintings in various shades of blue cover different subjects.

One depicts the demolition of a building in Chicago in 1995 as cerulean clouds of smoke and debris, while another illustrates a power plant where Israeli forces make their missiles.

A third highlights a section of a press photograph of a meeting between former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and now-deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before the second war in Iraq.

The remaining paintings focus on a water scene from Tuymans’ home country and on a press photograph from the second Gulf War of Navy Seals at a villa owned by one of the sons of Saddam Hussein.

“I chose the color blue because (it) has to do with the idea of space, but also with the element of the difficulty of remembering things,” he added.

Other prominent works

Aside from the bespoke wall paintings, Tuymans’ Intolerance is seemingly divided into three areas.

Most of the gallery is dedicated to a hodge-podge of paintings focusing on blurry depictions of war, blank spaces and portraits on his signature washed and bleached-out canvases.

The conflict theme is exemplified in a painting called Prisoners of War, which recreates a television image of four prisoners from the Gulf War, who became, according to Tuymans, the face of the bloodshed.

Prisoners of War

Chantelle D'mello

Prisoners of War

Contrasting these images are two other spaces, whose walls have been painted a dull blue-gray, showcasing pieces with alternative messages.

The Al Riwaq rotunda has been converted into a redacted recreation of a 2008 show titled Forever, The Management of Magic, featuring large-scale paintings in a sort of carousel of skewed imagination.

Of the more prominent paintings in the zone are two depicting the catastrophic opening day of Walt Disney’s legacy, Disneyland, in 1955.

“This was to recreate an environment where you could incarcerate…or steer…fantasy. These are recreations of the very first day when Disneyland opened, and it was a disaster zone. There was a gas leak at the entrance of Alice in Wonderland, the (Disneyland Electric Parade) light turtle collapsed, and more of those things.”

The “dark spaces,” a series of darkened rooms features some of his older work, including source materials and drawings.

Passion Play on a suspended sphere

Chantelle D'mello

Passion Play on a suspended sphere

The space also features a hanging sphere depicting, among other works, the passion play, traditionally a dramatic presentation depicting the finals days of Jesus Christ, a reimagining of 9/11 as a scene from a paintball arena, and an original in situ sketch of a gas chamber at a German concentration camp.

Tuymans said:

“This is a piece we rarely get…it’s very fragile, and it’s an old piece. It’s made in the beginning of the 80s. It’s made in the gas chamber in (Dachau), on the spot, on the backside of a calendar, with watercolor.

It’s yellowed (now), and in ‘86, I made a painting out of it. This is an important piece because it actually shows you something you can’t see. It shows you horror you can’t see. It has a moral element to it. It shows you how terror can be at random, and can be anything, and (how) its size can differ.”

The zone also features some of the Tuymans’ oldest works, painted on scraps of cardboard, and created at a time when the artist couldn’t afford to buy canvas.

The exhibition is free and open from 10:30am to 5:30pm on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays, noon to 8pm on Thursdays and Saturdays, and from 2 to 8pm on Fridays. It is closed Tuesdays.