N25o 31.019’E050o51.948′: You need a set of GPS coordinates to visit Richard Serra’s newest work, which stretches more than a 800m through the Qatari desert.
The installation is called East-West/West-East, and it sits at the mouth of Qatar’s Brouq Nature Reserve, about 65km outside of Doha. Each steel monolith stands as tall as 15m, rising out of the sand between two plateaus of gypsum on either side. It’s as though Serra decided to shirk his conventionally sinuous style and go full-throttle 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In fact, Serra has spent several years working in Qatar, unveiling a number of other works that he says could “only be built where there is faith and values to support the enormous efforts of such an undertaking”, which sounds an awful lot like a delicate way to talk about money.
The person largely responsible for these commissions is the 28-year-old daughter of the emir of Qatar: A woman named Sheika Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who has singlehandedly spurred Qatar’s art and film scene over the past few years. As the chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority she has overseen other large public installations from Damien Hirst and Louise Bourgeois too. The Economist calls her “the art world’s most powerful woman“.
But a storm is currently brewing in Qatar over the abrupt changes taking place within the small country. For example, the international community is calling for FIFA to rescind Qatar’s duties as a World Cup host city after it emerged that hundreds of migrant workers have died during the construction process. Can an absolute monarchy become a hub for art and culture?
Picture: Rik Van Lent / Qatar.