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Hot on the heels of yesterday’s official opening of his new work “East-West/West-East” near Zikreet, American artist Richard Serra has launched his first solo exhibition in Qatar.

Serra’s show – which is spread over three locations in Qatar, including the new installation on the West coast – is also his first in the Middle East.

As well as presenting a collection of past works at the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) gallery at Katara, Serra is also the new tenant of the Al Riwaq exhibition space next to the Museum of Islamic Art, previously occupied by British artist Damien Hirst.

However, unlike Hirst, who divided the enormous space into several rooms, Serra has chosen to create one bespoke sculpture that dominates the hall.

Passage of Time

“Passage of Time” is an immense piece. Constructed from two parallel walls of curved steel, visitors are invited to walk both around it and through it.

The passageway, flanked each side by sloping metal randomly marked by oxidization, narrows, widens, narrows and then widens out again, disorienting the visitor. Speaking to Doha News, Serra said:

“Most people quicken their steps when they walk through the piece. If you’re walking through it and you look overhead, the plates are moving faster than you are. So you feel you have to walk faster.”

On the other side of town, the collection at the QMA gallery at Katara features 10 more of Serra’s works, including House of Cards, his first major sculpture made with metal sheets.

House of Cards Richard Serra

Mark Fosh/Flickr

The piece, create in 1969 and refabricated in 1986, is on loan from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

Controversial art

As with all of QMA’s recent installations, residents’ reactions to Serra’s new art has been mixed.

Comments on East-West/West-East, the artist’s towering steel plates in the desert in Zikreet, ranged today from “call that art?” to “totally wowed,” with some taking offense at the “incursion” of the pieces into the natural desert landscape.

Serra said he understood that people might feel upset about this:

“I tried to do it in the most simple way I could. But if one is open to the possibility of considering it as a work of art, it might actually change how you see that landscape. We’ve made a place within a place. But if people find it an incursion, I hope you forgive me.”

Others questioned the cost of the work and asked why a Qatari artist had not been asked to produce it.

QMA does not disclose how much its paid for art, so the price tag of Serra’s permanent installation remains unclear. Regardless of the cost, many still came out in defense of his piece, including commenter Caliban, who said:

“I find the minimalism, symmetry and towering size of the sculptures strangely compatible with the austerity and enigma of the empty desert landscape. I’m no art expert and don’t understand most modern art, but this piece seemed strangely appropriate to its surroundings.”

On the other hand, DavidRS88’s response was typical of those who felt unmoved by the work. He wrote:

“1) Obtain large, disused building materials
2) Stick them randomly in a field (preferably one belonging to a wealthy country)
3) Come up with a deep, ambiguous, catchy title–East/West, North/South, Happiness/Sadness, Diasporas/gatherings, etc. etc.

Considering how much the artist was paid to put up the hunks of metal, I really need to switch my profession to modern artist . . .”

Serra responds

Serra said he is aware that his work provokes polarized opinions. When asked by Doha News to answer these critics, he said perhaps the artwork was misunderstood:

“To ask whether you’re just looking at steel plates, is to misunderstand what the piece does. Because walking around it – it not only describes the rhythm of your body, it measures your relationship with the landscape, and gives you a direction in what would previously have been a non-directional space. It also brings the east and the west sides of the country together.

I think that if people have a prejudice about not wanting to understand something, they won’t understand it. I think anyone who goes out there – going out there alone would be better – and walks that mile there and back, you have to come to the conclusion, whether you think it’s art or not, that it’s a different experience entirely.”

The artist also spoke about his process for where to locate East-West/West-East, after he’d been approached by QMA chairperson Sheikha Al Mayassa and asked to produce the work.

He said he’d visited three different desert areas in Qatar repeatedly over a period of months, but kept coming back to the area near Zikreet:

“I am very grateful to the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad, who walked around the area with me. He told me that when he was a little boy, his uncles would bring him out there – it was where the antelope gathered. He was very very nostalgic for that. So he recognized that the place had a specific aura. It moved me that he was moved by it.”

Both the Al Riwaq and Katara exhibitions are free to view and open to the public from tomorrow. They close on July 6th 2014.

Do you plan to check them out? Thoughts?

All photos copyright Sally Crane

A new permanent art installation consisting of four steel plates that are about 15m (49 feet) tall has been unveiled in Qatar’s desert.

The artwork, created for Qatar by renowned American artist Richard Serra’s, is called “East-West/West-East,” and is located some 60km outside of Doha at the Brouq Nature Reserve near Zekreet.

The massive plates span 1km of the area, and “is set in a natural corridor formed by gypsum plateaus,” the Qatar Museums Authority said in a statement. Chairperson Sheikha Al Mayassa unveiled the artwork during a press event on Tuesday afternoon.

Serra was quoted as saying the area “has sea in the East and sea in the West. The pieces connect the two seas and the two parts of this ancient landscape.” He added:

“The placement (of the pieces) is not geometrical, it’s topological; they can only be placed where they are to achieve the curvature of the land. If one walks through the pieces; he will understand not only the rhythm of himself in relationship to the landscape but also the rhythm of himself in relationship to the height and the length of the pieces.”

The new installation follows in the footsteps of Serra’s other works, which tend to revolve around the concepts of space, weight, mass and gravity, and are comprised of steel, his material of choice.

The artist is known for constructing enormous site-specific installations, including 7, a 24m (80-foot) high sculpture composed of seven steel sheets, which was erected at the MIA Park in 2011.

Impact

“East-West/West-East” is a departure from some of the other pieces that the QMA has recently commissioned, including a series of giant babies (Damien Hirst‘s “Miraculous journey” outside of the Sidra Medical and Research Center) and a statue of head-butting athletes (Adel Abdessemed’s “Coup de Tête”).

But it is no less dramatic. Some Qatar residents who stumbled upon the artwork before its official unveiling last week said the pieces left quite an impression.

To see “East-West/West-East” for yourself, photographer Sally Crane give these directions:

“Finding the site isn’t too difficult as the sculptures are very tall! You do need a 4×4 though as it’s pretty rough terrain. Leave the Dukhan Highway at the junction for Khawzan and turn to the left on the road following along the line of the highway until you reach an underpass.

At this point you will be going off road. Follow the track round and up the peninsula towards Film City. The sculptures are on your left hand side between a gap in the plateaus.”

More of Serra’s works will go on display later today, as the artist opens his first regional solo show at Al Riwaq Exhibition Hall near the Museum of Islamic Art.

Speaking at that opening, he explained to Doha News his process for deciding on where to install his new artwork:

“I am very grateful to the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad, who walked around the area with me. He told me that when he was a little boy, his uncles would bring him out there – it was where the antelope gathered. He was very very nostalgic for that. So he recognized that the place had a specific aura. It moved me that he was moved by it.”

Serra’s art will also be exhibited at the QMA gallery at Katara Cultural Village. The displays will be up through July 6, 2014.

Thoughts?

edward_dolman

QMA

The acting CEO and executive director of the Qatar Museums Authority is stepping down after three years at his post, QMA has announced.

Edward Dolman is not renewing his contract with QMA because he is returning to London and New York next month, the museums authority said in a statement issued this morning.

Dolman joined QMA in 2011, after serving as the chairman of Christie’s International, the world’s largest arts auction house. He and others in the authority came under fire last fall after some members of the Qatari community expressed dissatisfaction with how QMA was spending its funds.

In August, the museums authority responded to the critiques by saying it would be restructuring its organization into a “private entity for public good,” transitioning it away from being state-run.

At the time, QMA chairperson Shaikha Al Mayassa Al Thani, sister of the current Emir, expressed full support for Dolman, and said the authority needs to hire “experienced expats.” She continued:

“All his staffing decisions have been made based on professional merit and have no foundation in cultural divisiveness as suggested recently by a journalist in the social media.

Our Qatari to non-Qatari staff is a reflection of the reality of our society. Experts and specialists are employed on the basis of need; parallel to this we have over 60 scholars studying under QMA scholarship — studying subjects such as urban planning, architecture, art history and fine arts.”

Waiting for new head

Today’s press statement made no mention of Dolman’s replacement. However, in an internal memo sent to QMA staff today, Sheikha Al Mayassa said that she would be working closely with Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al Mahmoud to appoint a new CEO.

Al Mahmoud was appointed as a new special advisor to the chairperson last month, spurring rumors at the time that he would be Dolman’s replacement.

The chairperson added that the new advisor’s experience would help ease the transition following Dolman’s departure:

“(Al Mahmoud’s) depth of knowledge and experience will be of invaluable assistance in this period of transition. Ed Dolman will continue in his role as Acting CEO and Executive Director of the QMA until he leaves in May.”

Al Mahmoud, a Qatari, serves on the executive board of the Doha Film Institute, and has also worked at the Qatar Investment Authority. According to his biography on DFI’s website, he also has held executive board appointments at the Qatari Diar, Qatar National Bank and Hassad Food Company.

Dolman will continue to remain a member of QMA’s International Advisory Board. In remarks released by QMA today, he thanked the chairperson for her vision and commitment to the arts. He also said:

“My decision to leave was a difficult one, but I know that the QMA will continue to deliver world-class arts institutions over the coming years and, in doing so, will create better understanding between the world’s many cultures and faiths. We all look forward to the opening of the National Museum of Qatar in two years’ time.”

Thoughts?