Art and Sprawl in 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.
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.
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.)
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.