Art and Sprawl in Qatar

 Fancy shrubbery and construction cranes in Doha, Qatar

Fancy shrubbery and construction cranes in Doha, Qatar

The whole city of Doha, Qatar is in an absolute frenzy of new construction, stretching the boundaries of the urban center farther and farther out into the desert.  A few weeks ago we visited a friend who recently moved there. His flat is in a building that's just one of blocks and blocks of apartments built specifically as corporate housing for the city's exploding population of professionals. Much of the new suburban sprawl consists of housing developments and airplane-hangar-sized shopping centers built in grim, uninterrupted grids out to the horizon.

 In the suburbs of Doha. Outside of downtown, there's a whole lot of this.

In the suburbs of Doha. Outside of downtown, there's a whole lot of this.

However, a lot of stunning, cutting-edge architecture is here, too, as well as some thought-provoking public art installations. Forbes names Qatar as the richest country in the world, so it seems only fitting that some big money is being spent on art and architecture.

 Mona Hatoum's  La Grande Broyeuse  at Mathaf

Mona Hatoum's La Grande Broyeuse at Mathaf

I've seen the Museum of Islamic Art twice now (and I'm sure I'll go again.) But on this recent, third trip to Doha, it was great to see some of the city's other art offerings. We slogged through miles and miles of construction to find the spare, stylish Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art.

 Some of Etel Adnan's paintings at Mathaf

Some of Etel Adnan's paintings at Mathaf

The two major exhibitions at Mathaf the day we went were those of Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian artist born in Beirut who now lives in London, and Etel Adnan, an author and artist also born in Lebanon. Adnan lived for years in California and was inspired by the landscape there, particularly Mount Tamalpaîs, north of San Francisco. (My husband learned how to mountain bike on Mount Tamalpaîs, so he especially enjoyed these paintings.)

 Richard Serra's  Passage of Time

Richard Serra's Passage of Time

 One end of  Passage of Time

One end of Passage of Time

While in Doha we also visited a beautifully exhibited sculpture by American artist Richard Serra in its own building on the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art. A few years ago I saw his Matter of Time series at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and that was spectacular, but this! The sheer size and empty space around the piece seemed like a part of the sculpture. It's just the one piece, housed in a clean, white warehouse of a room. You need that much space to stand back and get a good look at Serra's pieces. It felt somehow appropriate that these two sinuous, parallel lines of steel have been given such a spacious home in this sprawling, flat city.