It’s a truth universally known that in all articles about Qatar, one must mention basic facts (size, oil, ambition, FIFA world cup), otherwise certain death (oh it’s so wee and it has so much oil and money and they own everything in London, the newspapers of the UK whine. That’s boring, newspapers, shut up).
What I find far more interesting about the country which I live in, is its interest in art and how unusual that is, the problems of the art scene here and the sheer ambition behind it.
Firstly, the government runs the art scene over here…which is fairly unusual. Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) run all the museums of which there are many for such a tiny wee peninsula.
Their flagship museum is the Museum of Islamic Art, which sits on the Corniche (the bay, for all you ignoramuses) and was designed by I.M. Pei and is a stunning piece of architectural work. Inside, it hosts lots of Islamic and Arab artefacts, mostly from Iran and they have about 2 exhibitions a year.
Often…it’s pretty empty inside.
Personally, I think they should open it up as a venue, as the beautiful atrium would be a stunning place to hold balls, dinners, and social shizzle. However, bureaucracy being what it is, it remains a nice place to have an overprice coffee. (The tea comes in a very heavy iron teapot – I recommend).
Second museum and my personal favourite it Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, which held the exhibition Cai Guo Qiang Saraab to huge success earlier this year. It looked at the ties between the Gulf and China, harking back to the trade routes.
Chinese artist Qiang used volunteers to held create his artwork using GUNPOWDER and then, to open the ceremony, he had a crazy fireworks display called Black Ceremony.
What I like most about Mathaf, is its run by young people (am I ageist?) and they have a cool graphic design team and are really interested in doing community-based things, like workshops.
I’m very curious as to what they’ll be up to next.
Katara is a Cultural Village, recently built to resemble an old Arabic town and it hosts the Philharmonic Orchestra, many restaurants and cafes and also two art galleries, one a QMA gallery and the other a Visual Art Centre, where as well as two exhibition spaces they teach painting, ceramics, you name it!
There is also a new museum being built, the National Museum of Qatar, Jean Nouvel has designed the building. Fancy architects, huh.
Qatar also made the news by spending the most amount of money on a painting ever, $250 million on one of The Card Players by Cézanne, although that may be a private purchase, who knows?
The thing is, however, they haven’t yet nurtured a strong interest in contemporary art here. Apart from exciting things like watching things explode in the desert aka Black Ceremony, art exhibitions aren’t popular. QMA are hoping to change that with their next exhibition, (which means “from the old days” in the Qatari dialect) which will be made up of items donated from everyone who lives in the country.
A lot of people criticise the art scene here, New York Times, I’m a-looking at you. However, newspapers said a lot of crap about Paris when that was the art capital of the world, they didn’t understand the art. Although this is a different situation, and Qatar is mainly showcasing other people’s art, all artists need patrons, so I’m very interested to see where their ambition takes them.