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